A wide variety of news outlets, led by Roll Call, are reporting that Republican Donald Trump plans to name Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate Friday. There’s some history of incorrect reporting on vice-presidential choices — Dick Gephardt turned out not to be John Kerry’s pick in 2004, for example — so these sources are hedging their reporting to various degrees. Betting markets price in about an 80 percent chance that Pence will be the pick, allowing an outside possibility of a last-minute surprise or change of heart on Trump’s behalf.
If the pick were Pence, I’d view it as the best choice Trump could have made from among a weak lot of finalists. That’s damning with faint praise to some degree, and I’ll highlight a couple of potential challenges with the pick later. But in Pence, Trump would basically be getting a “generic Republican”: a 57-year-old white man; the governor of a midsize, red-leaning state; someone with very conservative but otherwise conventionally Republican policy positions.
That’s probably a good thing, because a generic Republican at the top of the ticket would have a heck of a chance against Hillary Clinton, whose unpopularity would be record-breaking if not for Trump himself. The “fundamentals” of the campaign — Democrats seeking a third straight term to succeed a moderately but not overwhelmingly popular President Obama, amid a good-but-not-great economy — also point to an election that would be close if contested between typical candidates.
Of course, it won’t be Pence at the top of the ticket, and Trump — even after some recent gains — remains the underdog, according to the polls. Still, his calculation is different from Republican John McCain’s in 2008, when McCain made the …