The Race Next Door: “A heartbeat away”.

  • National Newswatch

In 1892, Thomas Reed (who went on to be Speaker of the US House of Representatives) said of the office of US Vice President: “the man who occupied that chair must be one who could take the presidential chair at any moment without shocking the dignity or honor of the nation”.  Reed is credited with introducing the idea of the VP as a “heartbeat away” from the top job, although it is often associated with Lyndon Johnson, who in 1960 explained his somewhat unexpected willingness to run on John Kennedy’s ticket, by saying it was worth “being a heartbeat away from the Presidency”. 

Joe Biden’s running mate is settled.  But with a month to go till the Republican Convention there is no clear picture of who Donald Trump will pick as his running mate. The most likely list of contenders includes JD Vance, Doug Burgum, Marco Rubio, and Elise Stefanik, although there are a few other names that could be surprise picks.

Trump’s calculus will probably be defensive first: pick someone who will not jeopardize his chances, rather than someone who will expand his voter pool.  To wit, since she revealed that she executed her dog Cricket, Governor Kristi Noem’s name has disappeared from speculation. 

He will also avoid someone who would compete for the limelight with him. Especially someone who after a win in November would become seen as Trump’s successor. Rubio and Vance might find that their odds are lessened by this consideration. 

While it may be folly to try to guess all the factors he will weigh, it feels like Doug Burgum and Elise Stefanik might be slightly ahead in the race for the VP nod.  Of the two, Burgum seems the more likely choice, in part because at age 67, the North Dakota Governor is less likely than the 39-year-old Stefanik to be looking to draw attention away from Trump to serve her own political ambition. 

Burgum also comes from a background as a successful businessman and has the “central casting” attributes that Trump openly admits he finds appealing.  Burgum is not that well known across America, so he is not a particularly polarizing figure. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, carries 55% unfavourability compared to Burgum’s 17%. If voters were picking the “heartbeat away” person – a Burgum pick would contrast well for the Republicans.

Meanwhile, the polls continue to show a close race, but advantage Trump. According to averages posted by (which applies a good deal of care in evaluating polling methodologies and “house effects), Trump leading in all 7 of the most important swing states.   

North Carolina - Trump ahead by 6.7%

Georgia - Trump ahead by 5.3%

Nevada - Trump ahead by 5.3%

Arizona - Trump ahead by 4.5%

Pennsylvania - Trump ahead by 1.6%

Michigan - Trump ahead by .6%

Wisconsin - Trump ahead by .5%

American voters know both candidates well – it’s hard to imagine that either will see major changes in how voters feel towards them. As of today, they dislike Biden (-18.5% net) more than they dislike Trump (-12.5%). 

In two weeks, Biden will debate Trump for 90 minutes on CNN. The stakes are high, and the rules are unique. With a combined age of 159, their experience, skills – and weaknesses will be on display.  There will be no live studio audience, two highly experienced moderators (Jake Tapper and Dana Bash) and microphones will be muted to limit disruptive interventions and promote a civil discussion. 

It’s easy to wonder if Biden’s energy will be sufficient to quell voters’ concerns about his age.  And just as easy to wonder if Trump will contain his frustration at not being able to interrupt and avoid going off script.  No notes will be allowed.  There remains an outside chance that Robert F Kennedy Jr. could still qualify for a spot on the CNN stage, although there is still no conclusive evidence of whether his candidacy does more to hurt Trump or to hurt Biden.

In about 140 days, Americans will make one of the most highly charged, and consequential choices in modern history – with potentially massive consequences for Canada and the rest of the world.  As of now, the balance of evidence continues to point towards Trump returning to the White House. 


The Race Next Door #1