Sizing up Trump’s potential VP picks

by Carl P. Leubsdorf

News of Donald Trump’s conviction had barely hit the television screens and the internet sites when Sen. Marco Rubio took to social media to denounce it.

“The verdict in New York is a complete travesty that makes a mockery of our system of justice,” the once moderate sounding Florida senator posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Biden and the Trump deranged left will stop at nothing to remain in power.”

Other potential vice presidential choices quickly fell into line, joining Rubio in seeking to curry favor with Trump as he nears naming a running mate. “This lawfare should scare every American,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

The need to show 1,000% fealty to Trump has turned once promising leaders like Rubio into MAGA puppets, making it harder to judge their potential roles in what will surely be another monolithic Trump presidency.

For the most part, it won’t matter much. Only one person counts in Trump world, and the last time a VP choice affected the election outcome was John F. Kennedy’s 1960 choice of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the main names reportedly being vetted by Trump’s campaign:

Burgum. The two-term North Dakota governor, who made a fortune as a computer entrepreneur but ran a barely noticed 2024 presidential bid, has become a Trump favorite. He’s rich, distinguished looking and inoffensive. Unlike some prospects, he conceded on CNN’s State of the Union that Joe Biden won the 2020 election but noted “a huge number of irregularities.”

Dr. Ben Carson. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon who became close to Trump while waging an unsuccessful bid for the 2016 GOP nomination is at 72 the oldest of the prospects. As Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development, he made little mark but supported cuts in federal housing programs. Carson has not spent time campaigning with him but, like others, says he’d only accept the 2024 results “if it’s done in a fair and transparent way.”

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. A Harvard law graduate who was an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cotton brings a foreign policy background and a record as a vociferous critic of Barack Obama’s and Biden’s policies. Though a strong Trump supporter, he voted to accept his 2020 election defeat. He considered a 2024 presidential bid and is considered a possible 2028 entrant.

Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida. A one-time Democrat gone hard right, the Florida congressman overcame a troubled youth, including a felony charge later expunged from his record. He was a bank manager before entering politics. In his successful 2020 congressional bid, he called himself “a Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect Black man.” He has close ties to the school-choice movement and evangelicals, and he opposed certifying Biden’s Arizona victory.

Rubio. A 2016 opponent who called Trump “a con artist” and “the most vulgar person to ever aspire to the presidency,” he has morphed into an all-out enthusiast. An architect of the failed 2013 bipartisan immigration plan, he now backs Trump’s plan to deport millions of undocumented persons. Though he voted against 2021 challenges to Biden’s victory, he has refused to commit to accepting the 2024 result. But putting two Florida residents on the ticket is unlikely; one would have to move or forgo some Florida electoral votes.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Another 2024 also-ran, the Senate’s only Black Republican has become a full-fledged Trump cheerleader. He hedged on accepting any 2024 result, though he voted to certify Biden’s election and said Vice President Mike Pence “absolutely” did the right thing by refusing to intervene. Picking Scott might bolster Trump’s effort to attract normally Democratic Black voters, though his positions are more conservative than most African Americans.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. The onetime moderate turned all-out Trump supporter won the House GOP’s No. 3 post after Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney for her outspoken anti-Trump views. Stefanik recently denounced Fox News Sunday host Shannon Bream for asking her about past characterizations of Trump as “a whack job” and “insulting to women.”

Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio. Another past Trump critic turned supporter. “I never liked him,” the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” said in a 2016 interview. “My god, what an idiot,” he tweeted. “I was wrong about him,” Vance recanted to CNN’s Dana Bash. “I didn’t think he was going to be a good president, Dana, and I was very, very proud to be proven wrong.” Vance adds, “If the president asked me, I’d have to think seriously about it because I want to help him.”

Trump’s final 2024 GOP opponent, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem are apparently not being considered.

“You have to like the person you’re running with, and I don’t like her,” The Washington Post reported Trump said of Haley at a recent fundraiser, quoting attendees. Noem, who for years sought Trump’s affection, eliminated herself by disclosing in a memoir that she shot a family dog and a goat.

Aides say Trump knows whom he’ll pick. But reading him is probably futile. And after picking Pence in 2016, he reportedly considered changing his mind.

The only certainty: He’ll choose a 1,000% loyalist.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.