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Trump and Burgum 2024?

I am intrigued this Monday morning are the continuing signs that Donald Trump’s process of selecting a running mate for this year’s presidential election keeps including . . . North Dakota governor Doug Burgum. The longer you look at Burgum, the more he seems . . . Pence-like.

On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Donald Trump’s search for a running mate “is heavily concentrated on four top prospects: Burgum and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and JD Vance of Ohio. Another source described a three-way competition involving Burgum, Rubio and Vance.”

On Thursday, Axios reported that Trump had requested financial and other documents from eight potential running mates: Vance, Burgum, Rubio, Scott, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida.

This past weekend, the New York Times published a lengthy profile of Burgum, concluding:

Mr. Burgum has squarely positioned himself as a prime contender, spending months supporting Mr. Trump on the campaign trail and in court, while risking his own political capital back home for a former president who prizes loyalty, demands fealty and considers any attempt to intrude on his spotlight a betrayal of both.

Mr. Burgum has become perhaps the safest option on Mr. Trump’s list — and the biggest wild card.

It’s fair to wonder if anyone in Trump’s orbit really knows precisely what is going on between Trump’s ears, and which figure is the frontrunner, if there even is a frontrunner yet. But there are a few interesting points here: Burgum is on every list. And at first glance, he’s the figure who you might think would be the first one crossed off the list — he’s fairly old compared to the other options (he’ll turn 68 in August), he’s comparably unknown, and no one is worried about Trump’s odds of winning North Dakota.

And yet, Burgum’s hanging around.

When Burgum announced his bid for president, I wrote:

Burgum looks like a standard-issue second-term Republican governor. He has cut state income taxes and sent about 100 members of the North Dakota National Guard to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. He also signed a handful of laws in the GOP wheelhouse: banning nearly all abortions after six weeks, sex-reassignment surgery for minors, transgender women competing in women’s sports and teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools.

But Burgum occasionally deviates from party orthodoxy in unexpected ways. He wants his state to be carbon neutral by 2030. He vetoed a school choice bill because it lacked “public transparency and accountability standards for the actual use of the proposed tuition offset payments. . . .”

That same year [2020], he denounced a North Dakota Republican Party resolution that declared “LGBT practices are unhealthy and dangerous.” Burgum responded, “All North Dakotans deserve to be treated equally and live free of discrimination. There’s no place for the hurtful and divisive rhetoric in the NDGOP resolutions.”

Trump has made this decision once before, in the summer of 2016, and he seemed to recognize that he needed a vice president who would balance out his traits, not reinforce them.

Tom LoBianco, a biographer of Pence, detailed some key moments in the process of Trump’s selection of the former Indiana governor. One of the first was at a Trump fundraiser in Indianapolis on Tuesday, July 12, just six days before the start of the Republican convention:

When Pence’s friend [Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff] Cardwell got to the front of the photo line, he introduced himself to Trump. “I understand you’ve known Mike a long time,” Trump said, according to Cardwell. Cardwell nodded. They chatted a bit about Pence’s qualifications, then Trump pulled him aside.

“I want to talk to you more about this,” he said, as Cardwell recalled. “Listen, it’s down to two people: I’m looking at Newt Gingrich or Mike Pence.” He wanted to know why Pence should be picked.

“I don’t think you need another lightning rod at the top of the ticket,” Cardwell said, echoing the argument Priebus and Manafort had been making for months. “Mike Pence will deliver the evangelical vote, he will deliver the Rust Belt. And because he is a member of the Republican Governors Association, he’s got good relationships with all the surrounding governors, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.” The Rust Belt twist helped because the Trump campaign long knew it would have to sweep the region to win the White House.

The Secret Service agents assigned to Trump motioned for him to get moving, but Trump waved them off. Then Cardwell, a small-business owner for decades, remembered that he was talking with a businessman, so he made a finer point, which played to Trump’s ego and inclinations: “The two of you would be the best public-private partnership in history.” Trump smiled and asked for Cardwell’s cellphone number.

An issue with Trump’s plane meant that he had to stay overnight in Indianapolis, and he and his son Eric ended up having dinner with Mike and Karen Pence, and the two decided to have a breakfast meeting at the governor’s mansion the next day with their families — likely their last conversation before Trump would make his decision:

Trump looked at Pence and held up his cellphone. He had several missed calls from Christie. “I need killers. I want somebody to fight,” Trump said in a conversation recalled by Obst. “Chris Christie calls me nonstop about this job. He calls me every 10 seconds; he’d do anything for his job. He is dying to be vice president. And you, it’s like you don’t care.” He reiterated: “I need killers! Do you want this thing or not?”

Pence was calm, unnaturally calm. [Pence gubernatorial campaign manager Marty] Obst knew why: He was resigned to whatever answer God would give. Pence could only be himself.

“Look, Donald, if you want somebody to be a killer, if you want somebody to be a constant attack dog, I suggest you go find someone else. I’m not that guy.” Pence told Trump he liked running for reelection. He told him he was the guy if Trump wanted someone who could help him run the White House, help get bills passed and build and maintain relationships with donors, officials and governors.

“So, if you want me to do it, I’m going to say, ‘Yes.’ If you don’t want me to do it, I’m going to work really hard for you and the other guy. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter,” he said, according to Obst.

“Well, then why are you going through this process?” Trump asked, perplexed by Pence’s dismissive answer.

“Well, you’re in my home, you tell me,” Pence said. “Your whole family came here to see me. Obviously, the feeling is mutual, right?”

All Trump could say was: “Wow.” He seemed genuinely surprised that a man he had thought of as a loser — a man who also wanted something from him — appeared so nonchalant.

Trump likes the praise of sycophants, but clearly something about Pence’s quietly confident, “This is who I am, take it or leave it” attitude impressed him.

Now, maybe the Trump of 2024 is approaching this decision differently than the Trump of 2016. Maybe Trump looks at his selection of Pence as a mistake. On January 6, Trump infamously fumed, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

But look at that list of running mates — Vance, Burgum, Rubio, Scott, Carson, Cotton, Stefanik, Donalds.

Isn’t Burgum the Mike Pence-iest of those options? Solid, reliable Midwestern governor, not necessarily a whirling dervish of raw political charisma, but the level-headed guy who will reassure conservatives who aren’t so enamored with Trump’s erratic tendencies and the accompanying circus?

Trump’s campaign fundraising is rejuvenated in the aftermath of the guilty verdict, so perhaps that’s not as big a worry as it was a few months ago. But Burgum is worth an estimated $100 million and could easily kick in a couple million here and a couple million there for ads in swing states.

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