WASHINGTON, July 5, 2016 – Donald Trump spent part of his Fourth of July with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, sparking speculation that she could be his running mate after the GOP convention. Ernst is a first-term senator who gained strong support in the Tea Party movement. Trump announced the meet earlier in the day, tweeting, “I look forward to meeting @joniernst today in New Jersey. She has done a great job as Senator of Iowa!”
Ernst was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa National Guard and previously served in the Iraq War. A Trump campaign official confirmed that Ernst was being vetted as a possible option for vice president. Ernst’s background could help Trump with his lack of foreign policy and national security experience. The fact that she is a woman could also help Trump with a voter bloc with which he polls poorly.
Prior to meeting with Ernst, Trump met with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Along with Pence, Trump’s VP list is believed to include Senator Tom Cotton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Ernst is expected to be a keynote speaker at the GOP National Convention in two weeks. She was often suggested as a possible running mate for other Republican presidential candidates, with the suggestion that she would add diversity to the ticket.
Ernst is the first female senator from Iowa and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate. She released a statement following her meeting with Trump.
“I had a good conversation with Donald Trump today, and we discussed what I am hearing from Iowans as I travel around the state on my 99-county tour, and the best path forward for our country … I will continue to share my insights with Donald about the need to strengthen our economy, keep our nation safe and ensure America is always a strong, stabilizing force around the globe.”
Both Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus were in the meeting with Ernst, a sign that this visit was more serious than just a meet-and-greet. Trump’s approach to vetting possible running-mates is unusual, as he is playing it out like a reality tv show. He is teasing the process in an unusually public way. The Trump campaign did confirm that vetting of Ernst began earlier this week.
Trump has said he wants his running mate to have experience on the legislative side and to be someone who can work with Congress. Ernst is not the strongest option in that regard, as she is a junior senator who has not yet done much in Congress. Sen. John McCain made a similar mistake in his presidential run, choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008 as his running mate against Sen. Barack Obama. Palin had little political experience and was criticized for having no foreign policy experience.
If the point is to balance the ticket, Trump should choose a running mate with foreign policy and national security experience who will also add gender or racial diversity.
Trump met with Governor Pence on Saturday at his Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey and spoke about policies that work in his state. If Pence wants to be on the Trump ticket, he has until July 15 to withdraw his name from his re-election race for governor. Indiana law prohibits candidates from running simultaneously for state and federal offices. Pundits expect Trump to announce his pick this month, in hopes of drumming up excitement before the GOP Convention.