(Illustration by The Free Press, photos via Getty Images)

Welcome to the Trump Veepstakes!

Trumpland is dangerous. Who will be willing to risk financial ruin, humiliation, or jail time to be the presumptive nominee’s running mate? Peter Savodnik sizes up the contenders.

Trumpland is dangerous.

Ask Mike Pence.

Or Mike Flynn.

Or Michael Cohen.

Or Steve Bannon.

Or Peter Navarro.

Or George Papadopoulos.

Or Allen Weisselberg.

This is to say nothing of Hope Hicks, the former PR guru who recently broke down on the stand while she testified against her former boss.

The list goes on.

All of them were asked to do unconstitutional things (hello, Mr. Vice President!) or served time behind bars or were subpoenaed or went broke or just, you know, were humiliated.

All of which is to say the Trump 2024 veepstakes is not really a job interview or even a strategy powwow—which states can this guy deliver? Which constituencies will she energize or placate?—as much as a minefield.

Add to that the fact that Trump is 78. If he wins, America might actually need his vice president.

In typical Trump fashion, he’s promised not to reveal his running mate until the convention in Milwaukee in mid-July—the better to turn what would otherwise be a bland coronation into an Apprentice-like spectacle. But to build some hype, his campaign has leaked a list of names it is vetting. 

All have considerable assets—except maybe Ben Carson; I doubt he’s being seriously considered. They also all have liabilities. 

Meet the contenders.

J.D. Vance

The junior senator from Ohio’s spiel is a cartoon cutout of the story Donald Trump has been telling since his “American carnage” speech: that of a broken and angry America that has betrayed the much-vaunted working class in favor of corporate, coastal elites. 

The redneck who became a Yalie and then a venture capitalist and then a populist (so, kind of full circle) would crush Kamala Harris in a debate. (But who wouldn’t?) He’s also facile with the new right-wing think, which is not a full-blown theory of government as much as a kaleidoscope of (mostly) social media–driven outrages about China or Mexicans or Muslims or the deep state, which doesn’t actually exist.

In a recent interview with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, Vance neatly illustrated the way in which one can sound smart making a Trump-y argument that is actually criminally porous. “Moralisms about ‘This country is good,’ ‘This country is bad’ are largely useless,” Vance said, “and we should be dealing with other countries based on whether they’re good or bad for America’s interests.” Somewhere in a fortified palace, Vladimir Putin’s ears perked up.

At 39, Vance’s major drawback as far as the veepstakes is concerned is that he’s young. Trump likes his inner circle old; the average age in his cabinet was 62. He’s also very ambitious, and it’s hard to control ambition. 

Verdict: Top three!

Marco Rubio

One wonders what kind of jokes they’re telling about Little Marco at Mar-a-Lago. In the past eight years, Florida’s senior senator has transformed himself from Reagan Republican to Quasi-Populist and Trump Confidante. He’s pushed legislation to increase the minimum wage in Puerto Rico (as if that would kind of, sort of assuage MAGA-ists, who know full well that Rubio, with his long opposition to an across-the-board minimum-wage hike, skews free market) and advised Trump on Latin America. Last week, the former president gave Rubio a ride home on his private jet, always a good sign in Trumpland.

Rubio’s willingness to be humiliated by Trump—“He was sweating, honestly, it was disgusting,” Trump said of Rubio in 2016—well, that’s part of what it takes to play in the veepstakes. Trump said this of J.D. Vance in 2022: “J.D. is kissing my ass, he wants my support.” 

One hitch: the Electoral College can’t vote for presidential and vice-presidential candidates from the same state, and Trump is a Florida resident. Rubio could switch his residency (Dick Cheney changed his residency from Texas to Wyoming in 2000 to run with Bush), but that would probably mean giving up his Senate seat. 

Verdict: Top three!

Doug Burgum

The guy nobody’s joking about is the North Dakota governor. He has what Trump really respects: a successful business and a thick head of hair. Pinstripes. Bold ties. Big money. Distinguished salt-and-pepper look. 

Doug Burgum, unlike Donald Trump, is not a poor man’s idea of a rich man, but the real McCoy. He has extensive contacts in Silicon Valley, and he’s 67—so, age appropriate. Even the former president couldn’t help lavishing Burgum with praise. At a rally in May, Trump said the governor “probably knows more about energy than anybody I know. So get ready for something, okay? Just get ready.” 

Alas, Burgum is uber–pro-life, and Trump (correctly) views abortion and the overturning of Roe as a liability. But still. Get ready for “something.”

Verdict: Top three!

Elise Stefanik

Like Vance—and Trump himself—Stefanik is an anti–Ivy League Ivy Leaguer. She graduated in Harvard’s 2006 class, but she’s tried to make good since—transforming herself from former Bush administration-slash-Paul Ryan protégé into a MAGA Mom. (In 2018, she appeared with Ryan, the former House Speaker, saying it was “unacceptable” for Trump to call Stormy Daniels, the porn star with whom he’d had an affair, “horseface.” By 2022, she was leading the House Republican retreat at a golf resort in Florida, touting the party line about the 2020 election maybe, possibly, you never know, having been stolen.)

The congresswoman’s grilling of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in December over their handling of antisemitism after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel led even liberals to stand up and cheer. Also, she’s a woman. 

So what’s the problem? Well, she’s a woman. And Trump prefers women to look a certain way—blonde, buxom, porn star or porn star–adjacent. In a 2002 interview with New York magazine, the then-future president said of Jeffrey Epstein, “It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

Verdict: Maybe

Tim Scott

It’s unclear why Trump would tap Scott—who is from a state, South Carolina, that Trump will definitely win, is not a phenomenal debater, and is a little too much like Mike Pence (small-government conservative with a cheery, church-like demeanor). 

True, Scott has made it clear he’s willing to humiliate himself to get ahead. After the January 23 New Hampshire primary, Trump pushed Scott’s face into the flop of his own presidential bid—and then Scott weirdly, obsequiously told Trump: “I just love you.”

My guess: Team Trump figured that adding three black people (Scott, Byron Donalds, and—why not?—Ben Carson) to the list of veep finalists would help get out the black vote and inoculate Trump against charges of racism. “I have so many black friends that if I were a racist, they wouldn’t be friends, they would know better than anybody,” he recently told Semafor

Verdict: Unlikely

Ben Carson

As has been reported, there’s one person in Trumpland who really likes Ben Carson, and it’s the one person who really matters. But all the anti-Carson faction inside the campaign has to do is show Trump this clip of Carson, with all his unforced errors on the campaign trail, and that will probably do the trick. “Putin is a one-horse country”? “Can somebody attack me please?” “The fruit salad of their life”? What does that even mean?

Verdict: No way

Tom Cotton

Once upon a time, Arkansas’s junior senator would have been anyone’s dream running mate. He’s from a little town in Arkansas. He graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude, and then Harvard Law School. Then, he served in the Army, earned an elite Ranger tab, and was deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan. He’s sober and thoughtful, and he would complement Trump when it comes to foreign policy, preempting attacks that the candidate (or president) is blindly isolationist. Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union, Cotton attacked Joe Biden’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and noted that Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine only when Democrats are in the White House—which is true, but ignores Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia when George W. Bush was president. It brought to mind Bob Dole’s famous suggestion that Democrats were responsible for every major war America fought in the last century—quite the oversimplification. 

More seriously, at 47, Cotton is probably too young for a Trump veep. Besides, does he even want to be vice president? What are the odds that, if Cotton became vice president, four years later he’d be well positioned to run for president? (Not good!)

Verdict: Strong maybe

Byron Donalds

Did you have to Google this name? I did. I don’t think there’s any real chance Trump chooses the congressman, now in his second term representing the good people of southwest Florida. Donalds might help get out the black vote, which Trump is making a serious play for, but Trump doesn’t seem to think he needs help getting out the black vote (or any vote, for that matter). 

“Byron Donalds is an incredible guy,” Trump said in Detroit recently. “And I noticed he happens to be on the list of potential vice presidents.” 

But he’s untested. And, like Rubio, he’s from Florida. 

My guess: Trump is doing Donalds a favor by giving him tons of exposure, and he’ll help Donalds get elected statewide, and Donalds will owe him (like everyone else on this list).

Verdict: Unlikely

A final thought: there’s a not-insignificant chance that, on the morning of the scheduled announcement (probably the second-to-last day of the GOP convention), Trump whips out his cell and calls somebody no one is talking about and offers him the job: Senator Josh Hawley, in Missouri. Or Mike Lindell—the pillow guy. Or venture capitalist David Sacks, who recently hosted a Trump fundraiser in San Francisco.

All seemingly crazy ideas that probably won’t matter much come November, when voters will almost certainly pick the next president the way they’ve always picked presidents, without giving too much thought to his running mate.

Peter Savodnik (@petersavodnik) is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Read his report from the southern border: “We Want Biden to Win.

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