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Trump’s critical VP pick: 5 key criteria the president must consider

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Between now and July 15, when the GOP convention kicks off in Milwaukee, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will pick a running mate. Oftentimes the vice presidential choice is not especially consequential; this time it is.

Trump can only serve one term. If you believe, like two-thirds of your fellow Americans, that the country is on the wrong track, you must agree that four years of Donald Trump will not suffice. 

To fix our open border, restore law and order, unleash our domestic energy industries, bring federal spending under control and so much more, will take 8 to 12 years. That is what our nation needs and, with the help of his vice president, that is what Trump must deliver.

The former president gets it. More than once, he has said that his major criteria in choosing a running mate will be that the individual can serve as president. 

This past weekend, the Republican National Committee convened important donors in Palm Beach. The gatherings showcased several potential VP candidates, including Republican senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and J.D. Vance of Ohio. Governors Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Doug Burgum of North Dakota were invited as were congressional representatives Elise Stefanik from New York and Byron Daniels from Florida. Businessman and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was also at the fund-raising event.

Others apparently under consideration include former Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona Senatorial candidate Kari Lake and – wait for it – former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.

The buzz in Palm Beach was all about Tim Scott and Doug Burgum. Are they the finalists? No one knows; indeed, the vetting process, which can take weeks, has not formally begun. But the guessing-game is well underway.

I judge the candidates on these five attributes:

1. Credible presidential candidate

2. Loyalty to Donald Trump

3. Well vetted, not likely to surprise

4. Helps with an important demographic, state and/or fund-raising

5. Aligns with Trump on abortion

We can rule out Kristi Noem. She not only shot a 14-month-old puppy, she shot herself in the foot. How the South Dakota governor could not have predicted that her revelation about puppycide would cause an uproar in our dog-obsessed nation is unimaginable; after all, the most damning thing most people remember about Mitt Romney was that he once traveled with his family dog on the roof of his car. 

Former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is out. The one-time Democrat, who endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, is mostly celebrated for having switched sides. That’s not compelling.

Also unlikely is Vivek Ramaswamy, who is too young and unpredictable, and who behaved like an insufferable jerk in the GOP debates. 

The abortion issue sidelines some otherwise strong candidates, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has been an effective governor and in a recent poll of contenders, earned the highest approval ratings from both Republicans and right-leaning independents. For many, his signing of a 6-week abortion bill in Florida disqualifies him. Trump has enough problems combatting Democrats’ right to choose campaign and eagerness to misrepresent his moderate stance on the issue without giving them extra fuel. Gov. Burgum argues abortion should be left up to the states, which is Trump’s position. Burgum, a wealthy businessman who could help fund the campaign, has little name recognition but is otherwise a solid choice.

Choosing a female running mate could bolster Trump’s standing with women, currently his weakest demographic. A recent Quinnipiac poll showing the race in a dead heat had Biden beating Trump with women 52% to 41%; narrowing that gap would be powerful. 

But, many women in contention are strong anti-abortion campaigners, which will not help win over female voters in swing states. Arizona’s Kari Lake, for instance, has complicated her credentials by flip-flopping on abortion. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is popular with Republicans and right-leaning Independents and who is well vetted thanks to her stint as White House spokesperson under Trump, is similarly staunchly pro-life.   

Ditto Rep. Elise Stefanik, the firebrand congresswoman from New York who came to prominence chastising university presidents for allowing antisemitism to blossom on campuses. She is not well-known and has been awarded an A+ rating by the non-profit Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America group.

The V.P. pick could also bolster Trump’s standing with minorities. Senators Tim Scott and Marco Rubio could help with Black and Hispanic voters, respectively. Both are also relatively well-known; Scott, in particular, is popular. A recent YouGov poll assessing several V.P. candidates showed 49% of Republicans and right-leaning independents approving of Scott, with only 14% disapproving.  (Rubio was not covered in that survey.) That’s why oddsmakers put Tim Scott at the top of the contender list. 

But Scott did not gain traction in the GOP primary race; he is viewed by some as having a wonderful life story but otherwise narrow credentials. Marco Rubio, on the other hand, has credibility on foreign policy and could bolster Trump’s fast-growing appeal to Hispanics. 

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former Secretary of State, has an impressive C.V., and clearly has the ability to occupy the Oval Office. J.D. Vance is not broadly known and probably, like Byron Daniels, too new to the national scene (in that recent survey 58% said they were ‘unsure’ about the Ohio senator). 

Many centrist Republicans would like to see Nikki Haley run with Trump, thinking she could attract women to the ticket and also moderate voters who dislike both Biden and the former president. It might work, but would require repairing what became a serious rift between her and her former boss. The former U.N. Ambassador angered Trump and his supporters by staying in the race even when she had no chance of winning; her approval among Republicans and independents who lean GOP is poor. 

On the plus side, Haley’s position on abortion aligns with Trump, and she is an excellent campaigner.

In the coming weeks, expect to see Trump road-test numerous candidates. For the sake of the country, let’s hope he chooses a winner.

 

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