Trump: I have five VP candidates on my list -- plus two that nobody knows about

Probably just a bluff in the interest of Trump-style showmanship, like him telling Senate Republicans last week that he knows the names of two people Hillary’s vetting for the Supreme Court — without revealing them.

But since interest in the veepstakes is peaking thanks to Fox’s well-timed break with Newt Gingrich this afternoon, here you go. Speculate away.

Mr. Trump also said he expected to announce his choice of a running mate by Friday, winding down a process that has been closely watched as in all likelihood the most significant decision he will make in his campaign.

“I have five candidates, plus two, two that are unknown to anybody,” Mr. Trump said from Chicago, where he was raising money for his campaign.

“I will be making a decision over the next three- to four-day period of time, and I think it will be a decision that will be a very good decision for a lot of people,” he added.

Ivanka or Omarosa. Done deal.

More seriously, he could do worse than Rick Santorum. I know Santorum’s unpopular nationally, but so is Trump and so are Gingrich and Christie. Santorum has congressional experience, he’s a veteran campaigner, he’s a rock-ribbed social con and a Pennsylvania native, and he’s more in sync with Trump’s brand of working-class populism than either Newt or Christie. Ramesh Ponnuru has made the case for him several times over the last few days:

Pence is said to be a good pick for helping Trump win support from social conservatives. But Santorum has won far more votes from social conservatives across the nation than Pence has, by virtue of his having run for president. Pence also disappointed some social conservatives by agreeing under pressure to amend a religious-freedom law in his state.

Santorum seems more likely to defend Trump effectively, in part because he is already aligned with Trump on what I take to be his core issues of trade and immigration. Pence, on the other hand, will either have to say in interviews that he disagrees with Trump’s views or go through a sudden conversion on them. As I put it the other day, “Trump wants to run as an economic nationalist allied to social conservatives. Santorum is just the Republican running mate to solidify that brand.” And Pence, for all his virtues, isn’t.

The other guy who’d make lots of sense for Trump in various ways is Huckabee, who checks many of the same boxes as Santorum but is better liked thanks to his cornpone charm and easy affability on TV. He doesn’t have congressional experience, which Trump has said is something he’s looking for, but he does have lots of executive experience as governor. He’d give Trump some southern evangelical cred to help nudge regular churchgoers towards the voting booth. And there may be no Republican pol with a national profile, with the possible exception of Gingrich, who seems to enjoy attacking Trump’s enemies as much as Huckabee does. The main task for any Trump VP will be handling interviews in which he’s asked to defend whatever outre thing Trump happened to say that day. No one on the short list, and few people in the party at large, are better suited to that than Huck and Newt, and again, because Huckabee is well liked and Gingrich isn’t, he’d be the more persuasive agent. I made the case for him as VP months ago but his name never surfaced — publicly at least. It’s always had logic to it, though. I wonder if Trump’s been feeling that out all along; if so, it would explain Huckabee’s strange gusto in attacking #NeverTrumpers as traitors to the party.

When Trump says his picks are unknown to “anybody,” I assume he means “anybody outside my inner circle,” although who knows? Nothing would be Trumpier than him springing an out-of-left-field VP pick on Paul Manafort an hour before the announcement, with zero vetting having been done. Exit question: When Sarah Palin says that Trump should choose someone for veep who’s outside the establishment, whom does she have in mind? (Besides herself, I mean.) My best understanding of “the establishment” these days is that you can’t really be part of it if you’re ardently pro-Trump since Trump is the populist Jesus and through him all establishment sins are cleansed. (You can be establishment if you’re merely reluctantly pro-Trump. See, e.g., Paul Ryan.) Newt, therefore, is no longer establishment despite having spent the past 25 years as a Big Deal in Washington. Christie isn’t establishment even though he’s a centrist RINO and a longtime Palin nemesis. Pence isn’t establishment even though he spent years on the Hill in Congress and ran for cover as governor once the business lobby started threatening him over Indiana’s RFRA law. This is the problem with treating Trump as some sort of anti-establishment messiah — almost by definition, anyone on his short list can’t properly be attacked as establishment anymore, whether they really are or not.