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Takeaways from Trump’s VP short list

Former President Donald Trump has narrowed down his vice presidential short list to seven candidates, or so it seems based on who reportedly received vetting materials from the campaign.

Trump is unpredictable and his pick of former Vice President Mike Pence was largely kept under wraps before the announcement. But there are some useful insights to be gleaned from the reported veepstakes semifinalists.

Two names that appeal to many hardcore MAGA populists appear to be out of the running, at least at the moment. Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur, ran as a youthful Trump 2.0. Former Hawaii Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard left her party because it had gone too far left — and she was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the not-too-distant past.

That record of progressivism was probably a bridge too far for inclusion on the Republican ticket, much like when John McCain ultimately decided against Joe Lieberman in 2008, opening the door to Sarah Palin.

Ramaswamy has his fans, but he also irritated many Republicans during the primary debates. There is also a sense in which Trump and Ramaswamy are like putting a hat on a hat, adding demographic diversity but not balancing the ticket ideologically or factionally.

Some might dispute this label because the freshman Ohio Republican senator had choice words about Trump in 2016. But Vance is a full-throated economic populist and nationalist. He is more consistent on the trifecta of trade, immigration, and foreign policy than Trump himself.

Vance could play an important role in staffing a second Trump administration. Trump endorsed Vance in the Ohio Republican Senate primary in 2022. The Hillbilly Elegy author returned with an early endorsement of Trump this cycle, arguing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the former president hadn’t started any wars in his first term, while Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was still seen as a threat.

Trump won nearly one in five black men in his unsuccessful 2020 reelection campaign. This year, he would like to do even better. Nonwhite voters may be the key to a different outcome in 2024, with polling suggesting that many are tired of President Joe Biden and inflation.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson each bring something different to the table.

Scott is an optimistic and genial figure, in sharp contrast with American Carnage, and the South Carolinian could serve as a bridge to former Gov. Nikki Haley’s voters. But his presidential campaign this year quickly fizzled after what was viewed as a promising start with hiring and fundraising.

Donalds is also popular and telegenic, but less of a throwback to Reagan-era Republicanism than Scott. The dust-up over Donalds’s comments about black voting patterns and family cohesion during Jim Crow, not long after he piled on against DeSantis’s black history standards in Florida, will be an interesting test of whether he is ready for prime time.

Carson is the most intriguing name on the list. Trump clearly trusts and respects the retired brain surgeon and one-time rival. Carson could also replace Pence as someone with an intuitive understanding of evangelical Christians, though Trump needs that less than he did eight years ago. He is also the least likely to want to replace Trump in 2028, meaning the good doctor will have less of a personal agenda. But at 72, Carson isn’t much younger than Trump. Do they really want a ticket that doesn’t capitalize on the Biden age problem at all?

Donalds and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are both from the same state Trump claims as his primary residence. This raises 12th Amendment concerns, as Florida electors cannot vote for a president and vice president who are both from their state. Even the most optimistic Trump supporters acknowledge they will need Florida’s votes to win.

One of the Floridians will have to move to make this possible. It would be easiest for Trump to do so because he already has residences in multiple states. He was just convicted of 34 felony counts in one of them, however, which might make him reluctant to declare himself a New Yorker again.

Rubio has moved closer to Trump personally and ideologically after their more contentious relationship in the 2016 primary. The Florida senator has become more populist. But would the Trump base really forgive him for past backing of an immigration amnesty and a Bush-like foreign policy? Rubio would be well positioned to be Trump’s successor if chosen and clearly wants the job.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) is the only woman believed to be on the short list. Like some of the others, the House GOP conference chairwoman has gone from a more complicated relationship with Trump during his Access Hollywood days to being fiercely loyal to him.

Trump needs some shoring up with suburban women. He would probably also like to put New York in play. While that’s a long shot, Stefanik played an important role in helping the GOP pick up House seats in the Empire State two years ago. That proved essential to the Republicans’ slender House majority.

Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) could go from an asterisk candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination to Trump’s successor over the course of a few months. Burgum doesn’t check any exciting boxes and he comes from a small state that Trump will win regardless of who his running mate is.

There are reasons to take Burgumentum seriously, however. He is a successful businessman and looks like someone Hollywood might cast to play the vice president in a movie. Those are important considerations for Trump.

Trump’s past selection of Pence suggests he also likes the idea of being paired with a more conventional, even boring, politician with a record in government. There were reports that Trump also seriously considered former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who also fits this description, in 2016.

This short list could be a deliberate head fake, or Trump could simply change his mind. There will be persistent pushes for Haley or DeSantis until a running mate is officially announced. Rumors are swirling that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and others remain under consideration.

Trump has signaled that he will make his decision near the Republican National Convention.

Until then, Trump might like to keep the suspense going.

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