Jon Cowan is president and Jim Kessler vice president of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.
Donald Trump and his team are now vetting possible vice presidential picks, a process that former almost second banana Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) described as a colonoscopy using the Hubble telescope. In charge of the vetting is A.B. Culvahouse, a consummate Washington insider who ran the same process for John McCain in 2008. But imagine if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had won the nomination and Trump emerged on the vice presidential short list. How would Trump do? Let’s take a peek inside the vetting questionnaire which has grown from 16 questions in 1976 to 79 headings and more than 200 specific queries in 2012.
Start off with a few of the biggies. Any issues with marital infidelity or avoiding the draft in your past? From there, the questions only get more difficult. On the vetting murder boards is a plagiarism question, probably the result of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s misappropriation in 1987 of a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock. Those few paragraphs of unattributed spoken word seem quaint in comparison to the 20 pages cut and pasted from another author’s book and featured as original Trump genius at his eponymous institute.
What used to be known as the “nanny” question concerns the hiring of illegal immigrant labor, a mistake that felled the nomination of Zoe Baird for attorney general in 1993. She hired one illegal immigrant to babysit her children. Donald Trump hired at least hundreds to build his real estate empire. To paraphrase Joseph Stalin, hiring one illegal immigrant is disqualifying; hiring hundreds is a statistic.
Vice presidential candidates are asked if there are any court records worth noting; for example, have you been involved in a lawsuit? The ideal answer probably shouldn’t be 169, which published reports say is the minimum number of times Trump has been named in a suit. Sexual harassment allegations are asked about and explored. With Mr. Trump, let’s just stipulate that this line of inquiry could take a while. An even longer slog, however, is the more general “is there any claim anyone can make about you saying something racist or offensive in your past?”
Trump has said many times that he was an excellent student and thrived at the best schools, but the vetting process is not the ideal pop quiz for this candidate. And we haven’t even gotten to the most basic finance questions that constitute the backbone of candidate approval. Investments overseas, entanglements with foreign governments, charitable donations, complying with federal tax laws, assets owned and traded, and actual net worth. Of course, the vetting research for the No. 2 spot centers upon the release of the candidate’s tax returns, something Trump has so far evaded.
No candidate for the vice presidential slot is expected to be 100 percent clean on every single question. We’re not electing saints. But getting a few right would be nice. The bottom line is that the vetting process shows without equivocation that Trump is unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. If he’s not acceptable for No. 2 on the ticket, it begs the question of whether he’s fit to be No. 1.
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