Why Trump-Gingrich may be dream ticket...for Dems

Newt Gingrich
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has emerged as the leading candidate to serve as presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's running mate, taking a narrow lead in the veepstakes race over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

In addition to creating the most oft-married (six times) ticket in presidential history, Gingrich would present some stiff challenges for Trump as well as offer a few advantages.

On the plus side, Gingrich is whip smart and has a deep familiarity with public policy that would serve him well on the vice presidential debate stage. Gingrich's wonkiness would provide a welcome counterpoint to Trump's more, shall we say, ad hoc approach to the nuances of policies from taxes to immigration to foreign affairs.

Gingrich has the kind of "electric" personality that Trump clearly prefers and generally thrills conservative audiences with his frequent appearances on television.

The former speaker would be a rabid attack dog against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, wasting no opportunity to savage her over the Benghazi attack, the email probe, the Clinton Foundation and the entire menu of Clinton family imbroglios that dominate the hashtag fever dreams of the hard right.

Gingrich on the ticket might also convince some wavering establishment Republicans (and mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson) to at least give Trump a second look. One could imagine these Republicans thinking that "sure Trump has no idea what he's doing but we can count on Newt to steer him the right way."

But then there are the negatives, and they are considerable.

Much of America can't stand Gingrich and they despised his tenure on Capitol Hill.

When he quit his presidential campaign in 2012 after a brief moment as the front-runner, Gingrich was the most disliked politician in America. A Gallup poll at the time found that 63 percent of Americans had a unfavorable view of him to just 25 percent who saw him a positive light.

That's not exactly the ideal profile for a GOP nominee that Americans also don't like. Trump currently has a 61 percent unfavorable rating in the RealClearPolitics average of public opinion polls. It's certainly not obvious that picking Gingrich would do much to turn that around.

Gingrich would also not carry any regional or demographic advantages. He hails from Georgia, a safe Republican state, and would do nothing to help Trump among women and minority groups where the GOP standard-bearer is deeply underwater. For all his "Bridgegate" baggage and home state unpopularity, Christie could at least make Trump somewhat more competitive among blue collar, blue state voters in the northeast.

Trump might have had a much more attractive vice presidential prospect in New Mexico's Susana Martinez, a Latina governor of a critical swing state. But Trump got into a nasty feud with Martinez in May and ripped her performance as governor. That put Martinez on the long list of GOP stars (Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and more) who expressed no interest in serving as Trump's VP.

Then there is the biggest negative of them all: The last couple of times Gingrich took on a Clinton, he lost miserably. The then-House Speaker presided over the House's shutdowns of the late 1990s and lost the PR battle to President Bill Clinton's White House. Then in 1998, Gingrich presided over Clinton's impeachment in the House, a shambolic catastrophe that wound up with the president acquitted in the Senate and Republicans pulling off a virtually unheard of feat: losing seats in the midterm election of an opposition president's second term.

Clinton emerged from all the shutdowns and the impeachment mess as an even more popular president, riding a wave of economic prosperity and getting credit for balanced budgets that Gingrich arguably had done much more to bring about. Gingrich had to quit as speaker.

Hillary Clinton certainly lacks the retail political skills that her husband has in such abundance.

But if there is a dream pairing for Democrats to paint the Republican ticket as a pair of aging white dudes completely out of touch with the changing nature of work and life in America, it's Trump-Gingrich.

So by insulting his way through the GOP primaries and into the general election, Trump has robbed himself of potentially game-changing vice presidential nominees and left himself with a JV squad of choices that won't make his path to the White House any easier.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.