There's the brainy former speaker of the House, who has been tinged by scandal but tested through fire.
There's the current governor of Indiana, who would bring the mixed blessing of a reputation as a staunch social conservative from the heartland.
And then there's the military general, a political moderate who would infuriate the right but help allay concerns about his running mate's foreign policy credentials, as well as zealously challenge Hillary Clinton's record on managing the globe's most precarious hot spots.
Donald Trump has narrowed his vice presidential search to these three options, an adviser tells U.S. News, and could reveal his choice as soon as this week. Running mate selections are customarily covered with considerable pageantry and hype in the moment, but rarely do they alter the outcome of a presidential election, or even the result in a particular state.
Yet Trump's decision will be important simply because it will offer a signal to the masses of how a novice and free-wheeling media star turned politician might govern. Symbolically, it will demonstrate what type of partner he wants in the trenches for the grinding political slog ahead, as well as the long-term governing challenges that await the campaign's victor.
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"It's the most important decision Trump is going to make between now and the election. If he gets this wrong, he cannot recover. It's just going to go down the drain," longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie says.
An Indiana delegate to the Republican National Convention told The Washington Timesthere's a "95 percent" chance Gov. Mike Pence will be Trump's pick. James Bopp made that prediction based on a conversation with a top state politician about succeeding Pence, and the fact that Trump plans to campaign with the governor in Westfield, Indiana, on Tuesday.
Pence supported Trump's rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in the Hoosier State primary, but then quickly got behind Trump after his sweeping victory there. An ambitious former member of Congress, Pence toyed with running for president both in 2012 and 2016, but passed on the temptation twice to focus on his home state's governorship. In the aftermath of his signing a religious liberty bill last year – a measure that opponents protested would permit discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people – the 57-year-old Pence's popularity has plummeted.
Once seen as a safe bet for re-election this fall, Pence now finds himself clinging to arazor-thin advantage over Democratic challenger John Gregg. He's facing a Friday deadline for whether his name will appear on the ballot for governor, potentially forcing Trump's hand to unveil his choice this week.
While the selection of Pence certainly would appease the vocal social conservative flank of the GOP, it also would invite Democrats to color the ticket as prejudiced and outside the mainstream, just as Trump has been making an overt appeal to gay and lesbian Americans.
On the other hand, Pence would be a steady hand who could help Trump bring along establishment Republican holdouts. A seasoned communicator, he has experience driving a message and would be difficult to rattle on the trail. Joining the ticket also would exponentially boost Pence's exposure nationally, setting him up for his own run in 2020 if Trump falters.
"He checks both the practical box and the political box," says Pete Seat, the former communications director for the Indiana Republican Party. "He has qualities typically sought after in a VP nominee: He's got relationships on the Hill, has been in leadership, he has experience with international relations – which has kind of been forgotten – he has a governing record, with more jobs here than we've ever had."
"Mike Pence has got it all. Someone like [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie doesn't have Hill experience."
Michael Flynn, the 57-year-old retired lieutenant general, has been advising the campaign on foreign affairs for months and, as U.S. News reported in May, Trump has taken a personal liking to him. But as Flynn's under-the-radar candidacy gained steam through other news reports in recent days, prominent conservatives have taken the knives out.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who unsuccessfully pursued the GOP presidential nomination this year, said Flynn's views on abortion outright disqualify him.
A lifelong Democrat, Flynn has said he believes women should make up their own minds about whether to terminate a pregnancy and indicated he wasn't interested in a fight over same-sex marriage. But as pressure from the right wing of the party mounted Monday, he appeared to flip his abortion view, characterizing himself as a "pro-life Democrat" to Fox Newsand calling for the law to be changed.
On Sunday, just a day earlier, Flynn told ABC's "This Week," "I think women have to be able to choose ... sort of, the right of choice."
Even with the abrupt and overtly political shift, choosing Flynn still would raise the ire of devout evangelicals and hardcore social conservatives, many of whom voted for Cruz and are maneuvering in Cleveland this week to maintain an ideologically rigid party platform.
"It's a question of who we don't want," Viguerie says. "[Trump] hasn't closed the deal with conservatives. If he were to select someone like Gen. Flynn, it's more than beyond the pale – it's inconceivable. I don't think he's credible and trustworthy. It could cause a revolt at the convention and seriously endanger Trump's nomination."
Viguerie has a similar opinion of Christie, who campaigned with Trump on Monday in Virginia Beach, Virginia, at an event honoring police and military service members. While Christie has undergone vice presidential vetting by Trump's team, at least one campaign adviser maintains that the New Jersey governor's chances of joining the ticket are low because of the lingering Bridgegate scandal and his falling standing at home.
"He's at 26 percent in New Jersey," Viguerie says. "No conservative thinks Chris Christie is anything but a left-of-center Republican, a Rockefeller. He's just not credible. He brings nothing to the ticket."
Flynn's chief attributes would be his fluency in military and intelligence affairs and ability to prosecute a case against Clinton's past decision-making as secretary of state. In February, he called on Clinton to drop out of the presidential race while the FBI looked into her use of a private email server. The Justice Department since has declined to pursue a case against Clinton, but Republicans are poised to bludgeon her with the controversy as a way to undercut her judgment.
The 73-year-old Gingrich has been one of Trump's top prospects for months, given his deep knowledge of Capitol Hill, his agile debating skills and past experience toiling with the Clintons. He's been a ferocious surrogate for Trump on television, mainly on the highly rated and conservative-leaning Fox News Channel, and has been known to send email advice to Trump's lieutenants multiple times a week.
A Morning Consult poll found that Gingrich would generate the most enthusiasm for Trump within the Republican Party, likely because he is the best-known contender following his 2012 presidential bid and his tireless presence in the media.
But Gingrich has suffered through scandals that undoubtedly would be rehashed if he was chosen.
In addition to fending off an ethics problem while in Congress in the '90s, Gingrich, like Trump, has been married three times, with the first two divorces accompanying extramarital affairs. A running joke permeating Washington is that a Trump-Gingrich ticket would boast three times more marriages than candidates.
Another drawback for Gingrich is that he may be too much like Trump: unpredictable, at times irascible, and always carrying a blimp-sized ego.
Even with just under a week to make the call – with the Republican National Convention kicking off on Monday – it's also highly plausible Trump could change his mind again. As political professionals have witnessed in awe for more than a year now, the New York City billionaire is much more a gut improvisationalist than a careful, long-term strategist.
As Seat says, "Who knows how he's feeling the day he wakes up to make this pick?"
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