Who wants to be Trump's vice president?

The former president is in no hurry to choose a running mate


With less than six months to go for the presidential elections, time has come for the candidates to start identifying their running mates. For President Joe Biden, the question is largely academic as he is almost certain to repeat Vice President Kamala Harris. Although Harris is placed really down on popularity charts, the potent combination of being an Afro-American and a woman gives her an edge in the Democratic Party and Biden can ill-afford to look for an alternative.

The interesting vice presidential selection, meanwhile, is happening on the Republican front. Several potential candidates are already auditioning for the role of Donald Trump’s running mate, although the former president has indicated that he would formally pick a candidate only by the time of the Republican National Convention, to be held from July 15 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just like he did when he chose Mike Pence eight years ago.

The audition for the post, however, seems to have begun in earnest with Trump inviting his potential VP picks to a closed-door luncheon on May 4 at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida for top fundraisers who could pay at least $25,000 for a seat. Several vice presidential hopefuls, including Senators Marco Rubio (Florida), Tim Scott (South Carolina), J.D. Vance (Ohio), Mike Lee (Utah), Marsha Blackburn, (Tennessee) Governors Doug Burgum (North Dakota), Kristi Noem (South Dakota) and Representatives Elise Stefanik (New York), Byron Donalds (Florida), Wesley Hunt (Texas) and Michael Waltz (Florida) were present at Mar-a-Lago. Trump invited them on stage, like contestants in his hit reality show, The Apprentice, that ran for 14 seasons on television.

The next day Scott, Burgum, Rubio and Stefanik appeared on Sunday news shows, singing Trump’s praises. “This weekend, we had 15 people…. They’re all out there campaigning,” said Trump, speaking to media a couple of days later. “It might actually be more effective this way because, you know, every one of them thinks they could be chosen, which I guess possibly is so.”

There are a few more contenders on Trump’s radar, which include Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had served as Trump’s press secretary, and Alabama Senator Katie Britt, who delivered the Republican response to Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this year. Other possible vice presidential candidates are: multi-millionaire entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy; Ben Carson, who served as Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development; North Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former Congressman John Ratcliffe; Kari Lake, who narrowly lost the 2022 Arizona governor’s race; South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace; Florida Senator and former governor Rick Scott and MAGA extremist Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. A surprise name doing the rounds is that of Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who has become one of the key ideologues of Trumpism.

Looking back at the history of American presidential elections, candidates have selected their VP nominees based on their ability to swing a key state or a critical voting bloc or for their policy expertise and governance experience or least for gravitas. For instance, John F. Kennedy, who was the young Catholic senator from Massachusetts, chose Lyndon B. Johnson, with an eye on the southern voters, especially Johnson's home state Texas. It turned out to be an inspired political move. Similarly, a young Barack Obama chose the elderly white senator Joe Biden, who perfectly complimented his youthful exuberance and Afro-American background.

Trump, in his first term, tapped Mike Pence, the arch conservative Indiana governor, to be his vice president, factoring in such considerations. The move helped him secure the votes of conservative and evangelical Republicans. But this time, his considerations could be different.

Devotion to Trump is an article of faith for the MAGA base, so this time he may not rely on his running mate to win one or more states for him. Right now, his requirements are different. As he faces a hostile media environment, multiple civil and criminal cases and at least one criminal trial, Trump now wants someone who is telegenic and articulate, who can defend him on national television, especially handling tough interviews and talk shows on popular, liberal platforms. Trump’s inner circle was apparently impressed by Vance’s performance on CNN a day after the Mar-a-Lago fundraiser.

Apart from tenacious defenders, Trump also needs attack dogs to go after Biden. Stefanik has been a vocal critic of legal action against Trump. She has been going after prosecutors in charge of cases against Trump, filing multiple ethics complaints. Rubio and Cotton, too, are on the job, brutally taking Biden down on a range of issues, such as campus protests over the Gaza war and the immigrant crisis. With his senate experience, influence among Hispanics and broad fundraising network, Rubio would be an asset for Trump. But he may have to do something about the residency requirement under the constitution’s 12th amendment, which does not permit a president and his running mate being residents of the same state. Both Trump and Rubio are from Florida.

Finally, Trump would be happy to have a running mate with deep pockets or at least with excellent fundraising skills as he faces a huge cash disadvantage against Biden. He is also bothered by his growing legal bills. He has run up legal bills worth $76 million since January 2023 and was forced to rely on donor contributions, using up nearly a quarter of the total money he raised during this period for his presidential campaign. In this context, Burgum and Ramaswamy appear to be appealing options, as they can use their own money.

According to some reports, Trump is being pressured by some corporate leaders and wealthy donors to pick a candidate of their choice. For instance, Ike Perlmutter, the billionaire former chairman of Marvel Entertainment, prefers Stefanik, while Rupert Murdoch has a preference for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. Oracle chairman Larry Ellison wants Trump to go with Tim Scott.

Despite all the pulls and pressures and all other practical considerations, Trump's ultimate criteria for his running mate would be absolute loyalty over everything else. Pence's decision to chart an independent course, ignoring Trump's demands about the certification of the 2020 election and overturning the popular mandate, still rankles. So it is no coincidence that he continues to taunt Senator Vance for criticising him in the past. Vance is presently in Trump's good books and he is also a close friend of his eldest son, Donald Trump Junior. Yet after calling him onstage during the Mar-a-Lago fundraiser, the first thing Trump did was to remind him of his 'past indiscretions', that is, speaking against Trump during his 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, Trump would be happy to drag the selection process on as much as possible. Having all these high-profile contenders out there serves as a major campaign boost for him, which is free of cost. And Trump seems to be enjoying every minute of it.