(Politico) The last time Donald Trump picked a running mate, he made a conventional choice in Mike Pence — a relatively safe decision with traditional presidential ticket-balancing in mind.
But as Trump gears up for a 2024 bid to recapture the White House, the nascent thinking at Mar-a-Lago surrounding his potential vice president is considerably different. According to conversations with a dozen Trump advisers and close associates, the former president doesn’t feel bound by geographic or ideological considerations — or any standard political rules at all.
Those familiar with his thinking say his selection will be determined by two factors that rate highest in Trump’s estimation: unquestioned loyalty and an embrace of the former president’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“A lot of times, a presidential candidate will pick a running mate to balance out wings of the party. But with Trump, that’s not the issue. He is the party, basically. It’s so united behind him,” said John McLaughlin, one of Trump’s campaign pollsters. “So his choice, if he runs, will come down to what he wants. It would be a much more personal decision this time.”
Trump hasn’t made his 2024 bid official. He’s expected to make a decision after the 2022 midterms. But he has been building a campaign-in-waiting that is already laying groundwork, and the question of a running mate is surfacing with increasing frequency.
He’s name-dropped Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as one possible running mate. Veepstakes speculation rose among insiders who saw him interact recently with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his Mar-a-Lago club.
“They’re all begging me. They all come here,” Trump boasted to one adviser, who shared the account anonymously with POLITICO.
The issue of a running mate, advisers and allies say, has taken on a new dimension in Trump’s mind as he stews over his decision to pick Pence in 2016, only to watch the vice president help certify the election of Joe Biden as president in January. Though it was Pence’s legal responsibility, Trump considered him disloyal and recently went so far as to say it was “common sense” that the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters chanted “hang Mike Pence.”
The considerations that led Trump to name Pence as his ticket mate in 2016 — an evangelical conservative, Pence was a Rust Belt governor at the time of his selection — are no longer as relevant, Trump’s advisers say. They say Trump is far more likely to go with his gut instinct next time around. Trump partly relied on his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, during the selection process last time, but the two are not expected to play the same role if he runs in 2024.
“Once you get past those two issues — loyalty and Trump going more with his gut — Trump has a lot of leeway in who he would pick,” said Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s lead pollster in 2016 and 2020.
“He’s not necessarily looking to balance the ticket geographically, but what he can do is pick to balance gender, race, ethnicity — a lot of different lanes there,” said Fabrizio, who is polling for a Trump-affiliated super PAC. “It could be everything from a Tim Scott in South Carolina to an Asian American in California, somebody Hispanic in Texas. There are so many choices and paths. And there’s lots of time to go.”
Those familiar with Trump’s thinking say his prospective vice president selection would likely draw from three general lanes of candidates: women, conservatives of color or a trusted adviser — or a “consigliere,” as one adviser described it.
Scott, the first elected Black senator from the South since the Reconstruction era, recently met with Trump in Palm Beach.
“It was a really warm interaction,” said one Republican observer in the room. “Scott was appropriately deferential without being gross, like some people are. What he said was thoughtful, and it was appreciated by the president. There was definitely chemistry there.”
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