Vice President Mike Pence is headed to the First Coast in the latest sign of how important the Sunshine State is to President Donald Trump’s efforts to win a second term.
Pence is scheduled to speak in Jacksonville about trade policy, an increasingly important issue in that city which bills itself as “America’s Logistics Center.” The vice president is speaking about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which the Trump administration hopes to use to replace NAFTA. America First Policies, a think tank helping the White House, will host the event.
While there had been talk last year about Trump throwing Pence overboard, the vice president looks headed back to the ticket. Pence has grown increasingly active in recent weeks, hitting swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
With Trump appearing at a rally in Panama City earlier in the month, Pence’s visit to the First Coast is the latest sign of how serious the White House is taking Florida for 2020. Simply put, Trump’s path to a second term is near impossible without Florida though other states–namely Michigan and Pennsylvania–are shaping up as the front lines for next year’s presidential election. Northeast Florida is–usually–reliable for the GOP and Pence will help Republicans in the area as they get ready for 2020.
There’s been talking in recent election cycles of throwing the vice president–whoever he was–overboard as presidents geared up to run for reelection. There’s a reason that Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama kept their understudies on the ticket: dumping the vice president is almost always bad politics.
President Gerald Ford was the last president who threw his vice president overboard and it turned out to be a major mistake. After rising to the presidency after President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned, Ford picked longtime Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, R-NY, as his vice president. Facing a bruising primary challenge from Reagan, Fored tossed Rockefeller aside and added U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., to the ticket. Despite Ford’s actions, Rockefeller delivered the Empire State behind the president at the 1976 GOP convention. Ford lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter in the general election and Rockefeller could have made a difference, especially with his home turf. Carter carried New York by only 4 percent. Having won four gubernatorial elections, Rockefeller could have kept the Empire State in Ford’s column.
Outside of Ford, the only president in the last century who threw his vice president off the ticket was FDR who did it twice, jettisoning conservative Texan John Nance Garner in 1940 and leftist Henry Wallace four years later. There is some evidence that Warren G. Harding was planning to replace Calvin Coolidge with Charles Dawes had he survived his first term. Fitting, after Harding died in 1923, Coolidge plucked Dawes to serve as his understudy which turned out to be a mistake. Dawes flopped badly in the role and never quite recovered his luster despite wining the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.
While history shows no real reward for tossing a vice president overboard, Trump has no real strategic reason to replace Pence. The vice president’s home state of Indiana should be secure for the GOP in 2020 but Pence can help in neighboring states like Ohio and Michigan. He can also help keep fiscal and social conservatives behind Trump, no small consideration as the nation gears up for what appears to be a close election.
In the meantime, Pence is already taking on traditional roles assigned to the vice president during election time: taking aim at the opposition and acting as the president’s surrogate. That later role should not be ignored as Pence heads to Jacksonville as Trump starts his efforts to nail down the Sunshine State.
Kevin Derby wrote this analysis. He can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.