An Alabamian a heartbeat away from the presidency? It could happen.
Many were surprised by Sen. Jeff Sessions’ endorsement of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump in February. While many of the Republican officeholders in Washington, D.C., were lining up to support Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump.
Although the contest is far from over, if Trump gets the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination, then manages to defeat likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, it could pay off in a big way for Sessions.
The whole appeal of Trump has been that he’s an outsider who isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind and ignores the boundaries of political correctness. But to balance that out, he will need to look at someone who is familiar with the ways of Washington, especially if he is serious about achieving his ambitious policy proposals.
Despite Sessions being from a state that will go Republican regardless of who is on the ticket (meaning Sessions as his running mate would give Trump limited Electoral College benefit) and not being the perfect textbook vice presidential pick — what so far in this campaign has gone by the book?
Knowing how to navigate Capitol Hill will be essential. Having Sessions on the ticket would be similar to what then-Sen. Barack Obama did during his 2008 run in selecting Joe Biden to be his running mate. There was no electoral advantage to be gained by nominating a senator from the solidly blue state of Delaware with its three electoral votes.
Unlike Trump, Obama had served four years in the Senate. But he still needed someone like Biden to pull off the horse trading necessary for any grand legislative endeavors. Biden also brought a blue-collar appeal to the ticket. On a Trump-Sessions ticket, Jeff Sessions would be able to offer what Biden has for Obama.
Sessions wouldn’t be the first vice president from Alabama. There have been a few flirtations with the highest office in the land.
William Rufus King, an Alabama plantation owner, was vice president for 45 days in 1853 under President Franklin Pierce. Due to his poor health, King was allowed to be sworn into office in Havana, Cuba, but died of tuberculosis while in office.
In 1940, then-Speaker of the House William B. Bankhead from Lamar County, Alabama, made a bid for the vice presidency, losing out to Henry Wallace. Other than King’s short stint as vice president, Bankhead is the highest political office holder from Alabama.
And of course, there is the infamous George Wallace, who made four runs for the White House. His most successful effort was in 1972, but that came to an abrupt halt when he was shot five times by Arthur Bremer in an assassination attempt at a campaign stop in Laurel, Maryland.
Sessions won re-election in 2014, meaning his current term won’t expire until 2020. So as a vice presidential candidate, Sessions wouldn’t have to worry about losing his Senate seat if Trump is defeated in a general election.
It would be a political odd couple — a New York real estate tycoon and an Alabama lawyer teaming up to win the White House. But, as a vice presidential nominee, Sessions would have his work cut out for him. Currently there are a lot of disaffected Republican voters who are completely turned off by Trump. Some of these voters would rather see a President Hillary Clinton instead of a President Donald Trump.
Sessions would have to play the essential role of peacemaker and assuage the entire #NeverTrump wing of the GOP. Throughout his time in Washington, Sessions hasn’t burned any bridges on the Republican side.
He has played by the rules in the U.S. Senate. He’s never staged dramatic, publicity-seeking filibusters like some of his U.S. Senate colleagues seeking the presidency, like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). He didn’t put up a fight when he was denied the Senate Budget Committee chairmanship when the GOP took over in 2014, despite serving as that committee’s ranking member when Republicans were in the minority.
And when Cruz visited Alabama on a campaign stop in Daphne last December, Sessions participated in his event.
If there’s a function for Sessions in this presidential cycle, it won’t be winning over swing-state undecided voters. Trump already has that component built into his candidacy. Instead, it will be for him to re-unify the GOP after a vicious fight for the Republican Party’s nomination.
Sessions will have to win over those who previously supported Cruz and Rubio for the GOP nomination. While they may think Trump is an uninvited vulgarian who crashed their party, Sessions would play the much-needed role of diplomat.
If Sessions is able to broker some sort of peace and do so in a way encouraging Republican voters to unite behind Trump on Election Day, then it would be a no-brainer for the presumptive GOP presidential nominee to announce Sessions as his running mate before heading to Cleveland for the party’s convention.