early and often

Trump’s Pick for Vice-President Still Matters in 2024

Kristi Noem and Donald Trump. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s lead over a shrinking field of Republican presidential rivals is big enough to begin thinking about him as a general-election candidate, as a lot of closely watched polls are already doing. That also means speculation about who Trump might tap as his running mate is starting to heat up. He’s a 77-year-old man with less-than-ideal health habits, so there’s more than the usual public interest in seeing who he would place a “heartbeat from the presidency.” Everyone knows Joe Biden’s second-in-command, Kamala Harris. What about Trump’s? It’s actually something Republican primary voters might be curious about given the former president’s erratic ways and extremist associations.

This time Trump’s calculus will be much different than it was during his last two campaigns. Unlike in 2016, he can pretty much choose whoever he wants (within reason). Assuming the primary continues on its current trajectory, he will owe his nomination to no particular party faction; that means there’s no significant bloc of intraparty opposition that he must appease the way conservative evangelicals needed to be placated with Mike Pence.

Trump also has to think about his legacy. Since he’s limited to two terms, his veep will be the prohibitive front-runner in 2028 if Republicans win. Even if they don’t take back the White House, the vice-presidential choice is Trump’s best opportunity to designate a successor not only as party leader but as the chieftain of the MAGA movement.

Trump has only become more vindictive since leaving the White House, so it’s safe to say he’s not going to tap Ron DeSanctimonious or Nikki “Birdbrain” Haley to be his running mate. Indeed, the odds are good that he will exclude anyone who had the temerity to challenge him in 2024. Last month, Trump dismissed his GOP rivals as “job candidates,” saying, “They’ll do anything, secretary of something. They even say VP. I don’t know. Does anybody see any VP in the group? I don’t think so.”

While Trump has no reason to execute any party-unifying moves, he might decide to deal with one of his general-election vulnerabilities. And that has led to lots of early speculation that President Grab-Em-by-the-P***y might choose a woman.

Indeed, FiveThirtyEight had a sort of mock draft of potential Trump veeps this week and seven of the eight named possibilities were women (all in fact, but Tim Scott, who seems unlikely since he both challenged Trump and lost badly).

A few of the veep prospects named at FiveThirtyEight are what they appropriately called “chaos candidates:” Kari Lake and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Both are big-time election deniers and flamboyant MAGA culture warriors on a broad range of issues. I find them unlikely not just because regular Republicans would have aneurysms at the idea of either of these people roaming the West Wing, but because both might upstage The Boss with their incessant hijinks (Trump has privately said as much about Lake). Trump going in this direction would suggest he really wants to rub in his conquest of the Republican Party and also wants to show he can win with absolutely anyone on the ticket. You never know, but I don’t think he’s quite that self-destructive.

Other women mentioned by FiveThirtyEight are more plausible, if still very Trumpy. There’s big-time Trump fan South Dakota governor Kristi Noem:

On the surface she is very similar to Sarah Palin, because she is relatively young, doesn’t shy away from talking about her family, and talks about hunting and other outdoorsy recreation to buck some of the feminine stereotypes that plague women in politics. Palin didn’t end up being a good choice for John McCain. But I agree Noem is someone Trump would pick.

She also has a much longer resume than Sarah Barracuda could boast and wouldn’t be perceived as coming out of nowhere.

An older replica of the same basic political model is Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn, a veteran culture warrior:

She’s basically Noem but with a lower national profile. She too was an early endorser of Trump. She’s a woman. She has 16 years of political experience in the House and five in the Senate. And she feeds her base a steady diet of conservative red meat.

But she’s 71, which doesn’t exactly give the ticket youth and vigor.

Someone who might check more boxes than anyone is Arkansas governor and former Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who finally got around to endorsing The Boss on the night of the third Republican debate. She is, unfortunately, currently ensnared in a stubborn spending scandal know as “Podiumgate” over her purchase of a very expensive speaking rostrum, and her job approval rating in Arkansas is not good. Maybe she comes out of her popularity swoon soon, but if not, she doesn’t bring much to a national ticket.

And then there’s an especially intriguing option in New York representative Elise Stefanik. Her voting record in Congress might make her come across as a RINO squish, and all her experience (at the tender age of 39) is in The Swamp. But she has been unswervingly and aggressively loyal to Trump and would certainly reassure congressional Republicans afraid he will turn over the GOP to Lake or Greene. And it’s not like the former president cares anything about ideology anyway.

It’s too soon to predict who Trump might pick with much certainty. But my gut tells me it will be Kristi Noem and my head tells me Trump might throw a curve with Stefanik, who would give him days if not weeks of positive beltway press.

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Trump’s Pick for Vice-President Still Matters in 2024