In a sign of the fecklessness of Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, there are persistent rumors that many of them are actually auditioning to become his running mate. True or false, such suspicions appear to be moot now that Trump has adjudged the field as lacking in vice-presidential timber. During a speech in Detroit on Wednesday night, Trump commented, “Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don’t think so.”
Maybe this was just a tossed-off, unserious remark. But even if Trump were inclined to smile upon any of his opponents, they are all guilty of having the temerity to run against him, making them inherently untrustworthy. And Trump is likely to be even more emphatic than ever about loyalty after Mike Pence, arguably the most sycophantic veep in history, let the boss down when the time came for him to do his part in overturning the 2020 election results.
Other than loyalty, what might Trump be looking for? Probably not “balancing the ticket” in any conventional sense. Yes, he chose Pence in 2016 as a peace offering to the religious conservatives who were worried about his heathenish background and outlook on life. These people are now at the heart of his base, and he’s pretty much crushed any Republican faction hostile to him (as his domination of the GOP field going into 2024 has illustrated). Swing-state appeal? Nah. Nobody really believes veep candidates can “deliver” their own states; dating all the way back to the Ford administration, only one Republican veep nominee, Paul Ryan in 2012, came from a battleground state — and the Romney-Ryan ticket lost Wisconsin handily. Geographical balance? That stopped mattering in either party ever since Arkansan Bill Clinton picked Al Gore from the neighboring state of Tennessee as his running mate in 1992.
Trump has dropped multiple hints that he might prefer a woman as his ticket mate in order to make inroads into the votes of suburban women and perhaps reduce Republican fears that Mr. “Grab ’em by the pussy” is a bit too piggy for the White House, particularly now that a jury has ruled him liable for sexual assault. That has led to speculation about intensely MAGA women like Kristi Noem, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kari Lake, or Marjorie Taylor Greene joining his 2024 ticket.
Each of these potential ticket mates have clear liabilities for Trump. He has called Noem “fantastic … a great governor,” but she’s also been the subject of nasty tabloid reports of an affair with on-again, off-again Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski (both parties to the alleged affair are married to other people). Sanders was Trump’s White House spokesperson, but she may have annoyed him by staying neutral in the 2024 nomination contest. Trump has been encouraging Lake to run for the Senate in 2024; it seems unlikely he’d being doing that if he was considering her as a running mate. And MTG may simply be too nutty and erratic even for Trump.
There are plenty of women in Republican politics who Trump might consider as running mates if he looks beyond the fever swamps of his most fervent supporters, ranging from Iowa’s biker-farmer-veteran Joni Ernst, to Tennessee’s culture warrior Marsha Blackburn, to up-and-comers Elise Stefanik of New York and Katie Britt of Alabama. And if it turns out he isn’t insisting on a woman, a whole host of possibilities would open. A few senators might have disqualified themselves by virtue of loyalty to Trump nemesis Mitch McConnell, and a few governors are too close to Trump’s 2024 rivals. But if he wins a third consecutive presidential nomination as easily as it appears he will right now, the GOP will be his oyster, and he won’t feel constrained in his choices.
Trump won’t have to make this choice, of course, for many months. But it’s not an idle preoccupation to follow his thinking. For all the talk about Joe Biden’s advanced age, Trump would turn 80 during a second term, making his running mate a potential president, not to mention a likely successor as leader of the GOP and the MAGA movement. It’s not entirely too late for the Republican Party to change or at least slow down its current trajectory toward becoming a fully authoritarian political institution leading the U.S. toward the fate of Viktor Orban’s Hungary. But that’s all the more reason the supreme narcissist of Mar-a-Lago will likely choose a partner and successor who has been molded in his image.
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