White men make up about 30.6 percent of the United States population. In 2012 they made up 35 percent of voters. But according to Donald Trump's campaign chair, white men make up 100 percent of people who could possibly be qualified to be vice president.
That's certainly the implication of what Trump campaign chair and chief strategist Paul Manafort told the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman in an article published Wednesday:
The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group, he said. "In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think."
The assumption: The only reason someone might pick a woman or person of color for a job would be because they're a woman or person of color
There's a long tradition of presidential nominees using their vice presidential picks to pander to a particular constituency — though usually the constituency being pandered to isn't "women" or "Latino voters" but rather "voters from the VP nominee's home state, which happens to be a swing state in this election."
But Manafort — at least as presented in the Huffington Post article — isn't saying, We won't pick a VP nominee just because she checks the right boxes on race and gender. He's saying: Because we're not trying to check boxes on race and gender, we'll end up picking a vice president who's a white man.
That's a very different thing! That certainly implies that, to Manafort, the only reason you might end up picking a VP who happened to not be male or white would be because of her race or gender, not because of her qualifications. In other words, that if you rounded up all the people who are qualified in their own right to serve as President Trump's right-hand man, they would all be, well, white-handed men.
There aren't many nonwhite non-men qualified to be Trump's VP, because there aren't many human beings qualified to be Trump's VP
To be fair to Manafort, the bar for being "qualified" for the vice presidency is higher than usual when the man at the top of the ticket is Donald Trump. That's because, as Manafort admits elsewhere in the interview with Fineman, the job of Trump's VP will be to do the parts of the United States presidency Donald Trump "doesn't want to do":
"He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO."
This raises all kinds of much bigger questions about Trump's suitability for the presidency: what "the part of the job he doesn't want to do" is; how much of the job it entails; and why Donald Trump actually wants to be president of the United States to begin with. But as far as the VP search is concerned, it dovetails with comments Trump himself has made: that as someone with no experience in elected office, he wants a running mate who has spent time in government and knows how Washington works.
The pool of people who meet those standards are, overwhelmingly, white dudes — particularly within the scope of the Republican Party. When Vox's Alvin Chang put together a database of plausible vice presidential picks from both parties — current and former members of Congress, governors, and Cabinet officials — 75 percent of them were white men. Among plausible Republican VPs under Chang's criteria, 85 percent were white men.
But 85 percent isn't 100 percent. The Republican Party's bench might be thin when it comes to women and people of color, but there are still some compelling options — after all, Trump only needs to name one vice presidential candidate. Sarah Palin, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) all have more experience with government than he does, and could balance out the ticket in other ways. (Ayotte, for example, is a defense hawk who could shore up Trump's foreign policy cred in some circles.)
More to the point, though, the Republican Party wouldn't be looking for the caretaker vice president of all caretaker vice presidents if it hadn't ceded the nomination to someone with literally no experience in elected office, who routinely indicates a lack of interest in how government actually works and whose appeal rests on his ability to make a certain stripe of Americans think he cares about them.
In other words, if Donald Trump weren't so good at pandering to a certain group of white Americans, Paul Manafort wouldn't be so worried about a VP pick pandering to anybody else.
If Manafort isn't saying women and people of color are unqualified, he's openly admitting he'd discriminate against them
It's possible that Manafort is saying something slightly different: not that the only people who'd be a good vice president are white men, but that the campaign will deliberately refrain from picking a woman or person of color who'd be a good vice president because the pick would be viewed as pandering. That is hardly less worrisome.
It means that Donald Trump, whose credibility as a potential president relies almost entirely on his ability to hire "the right people," is actually less interested in hiring the best person for the job than in making it look like he's hiring the right person. And it means he believes the only way to make it look like he's hiring the right person is to hire a white man.
In fairness, among Trump supporters, that might be right. There's certainly a tendency to assume that women and people of color in high-profile or executive roles only got there because of affirmative action, and from there it's only a hop, skip, and jump to assuming that anyone in a high-profile role who's not a white man is unqualified for the job.
But to lean into that by declining to hire qualified candidates because they're not white men (and therefore some people might think them unqualified) is pretty clearly discrimination. And refusing to hire the best person for the job because it might not play well with some of your base? That seems a lot like pandering.