Why Choosing a Running Mate Is Different This Time Around

The field of potential vice presidential picks for former President Donald Trump appears to be narrowing, while his legal perils add to the urgency and significance of his choice.

“It’ll be the most important VP selection we’ve had in recent history,” Florida political scientist Susan MacManus told The Epoch Times.

Typically, the presidential running mate exerts little effect on voters’ choice for “the top of the ticket,” Ms. MacManus said. But this year’s unparalleled circumstances are creating top-of-mind concerns for the former president, for his potential running mate, and for American voters.

The former president recently stated that he is likely to designate his running mate at the Republican National Convention. But he is confronting potential imprisonment beforehand, which might induce him to make the announcement sooner, Ms. MacManus said.

Sentencing on his 34-count conviction is set for July 11 in New York, just four days before Republicans begin their three-day convention in Milwaukee, culminating in officially declaring him their 2024 presidential nominee.

Jed Rubenfeld, a Yale University law professor, said many people seem to think that New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan will likely grant probation to the former president. But the professor said confinement remains a real possibility.

“Could Trump actually be put in jail? You bet he could,” Mr. Rubenfeld said in a video posted on social media.

The former president, who has been critical of the judge, faces four years in prison for each charge—a total of 136 years. There is no way the judge would impose that maximum, Mr. Rubenfeld said. The judge also could consider placing the former president under house arrest or on probation.

Ms. MacManus said that if the former president is unable to attend the convention, a vice presidential candidate will still need to be selected, “and that person is going to be under extreme scrutiny.”

VP Is Key for Both Trump and Biden

Aside from the former president’s legal predicament, many voters see another usual factor escalating the importance of the vice presidential choice. The two current presumed nominees rank among the oldest to seek the nation’s highest office.

Some voters worry that the men’s ages could increase the odds that the vice president may need to step in and fulfill the presidential role.

Democrat President Joe Biden, 81, is older than any prior U.S. sitting president. His running mate, Vice President Kamala Harris, is 59. Most people expect Democrats will choose Biden–Harris as their ticket for the election, but some speculate a last-minute replacement could be named at the party’s’ convention in Chicago, Aug. 19–22, or even afterward.


President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris arrive to speak at a campaign event in Philadelphia on May 29, 2024. (Mandel NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Trump turned 78 on June 14. The ages of his potential running mates run the gamut from their late 30s to their late 60s, with several in their 50s.

The leading independent candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is 70; in March, he announced 38-year-old Silicon Valley lawyer Nicole Shanahan as his running mate.

All three presidential candidates and their fans have pushed back against assertions that younger candidates might be better-suited to handle the rigors of the presidency.

A Mystery Choice?

Just a few days post-conviction, the 45th president publicly named a handful of VP contenders, shifting public discourse away from a criminal trial that dominated the news cycle for weeks.

As other names continue circulating, political insiders have noted that the presumed Republican nominee could privately be considering some undisclosed personal favorites.

His public declarations—and possible purposeful leaks to news outlets—are most likely “trial balloons,” designed to test public reaction and media reporting about potential VP picks, according to two political insiders who asked The Epoch Times to withhold their names.

The former president may pick “someone no one’s ever thought of,” one insider said, adding, “That would be ’so Trump.’”

The man who became his VP choice in 2016, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was somewhat of an unexpected choice; candidate Trump named him three days prior to the Republican convention. Mr. Pence, an evangelical Christian, is credited with attracting that voting bloc to the Trump–Pence ticket.

Mr. Pence became a political opponent in the Republican primary, but he discontinued his quest to become the presidential nominee in October 2023.

Now, as the former president continues with his third presidential run, his campaign pointed out that he has sole discretion over his VP pick.


President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive for a campaign rally at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in Newport News, Va., on Sept. 25, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Amid the recent spate of public interest about potential VPs, Brian Hughes, senior adviser for the Trump campaign, released a statement to The Epoch Times.

“Anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying, unless the person is named Donald J. Trump,” Mr. Hughes stated.

Six Contenders—And a Few More

In months past, dozens of names have been floating around. But on June 4, the former president listed six possible VP picks during an interview with Newsmax.

That shortlist includes Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and J.D. Vance of Ohio; Govs. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Ron DeSantis of Florida; and Dr. Ben Carson, a medical doctor who served as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development during the Trump administration.

Five of the six have previously run for president; Mr. Vance is the only one who has not. All six have been vocal in their defense of the former president as he faced prosecution in New York and elsewhere. Most have also attended former President Trump’s New York trial to show support for him as the case neared its conclusion.

Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and former Democrat Hawaii congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard were on the first list, but they seem to have been dropped from consideration.

Mr. Scott is the sole name that President Trump acknowledged in both publicly revealed shortlists.

The South Carolina senator has been “unbelievable” in his vocal support, former President Trump said on Newsmax.

(Top L) Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). (Top C) Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio). (Top R) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). (Bottom L) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Bottom C) North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. (Bottom R) Dr. Ben Carson. (Madalina Vasiliu, Samira Bouaou, Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

He said Mr. Scott’s performance as a Trump surrogate exceeded his self-advocacy efforts during the 2024 presidential race. Mr. Scott suspended his campaign in November 2023.

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While Mr. Scott was still running, he and the former president refrained from attacking each other. That apparent mutual respect is one quality that helps Mr. Scott stand out among the possible VP contenders, insiders say.

In contrast, Mr. DeSantis and another Republican rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, both engaged in vigorous tit-for-tat with former President Trump before they quit the presidential race earlier this year.

In a social media post in May, former President Trump ruled out Ms. Haley, who served as United Nations ambassador during his administration. During the Newsmax interview, he hedged on whether he might change his mind about her.
A Harvard-CAPS-Harris poll conducted in May suggests that, among seven high-ranking possible VPs, Mr. Scott or Mr. Ramaswamy would most influence voters.

According to the poll, 23 percent of Democrat voters would be more likely to vote for former President Trump if Mr. Scott became his running mate. Mr. Scott also led the field of seven potential VPs for attracting nonwhite voters.

Among those contenders, Mr. Ramaswamy would help most with GOP voters, with 32 percent saying they would be more likely to vote for the former president if his name appeared alongside Mr. Ramaswamy’s.

But more than half of the voters surveyed said the VP choice would have no effect on their ballot-casting decision.

Shortlist May Have Shortcomings

Mark Caleb Smith, director of the center for political studies at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, cited what appear to be voids in the former president’s latest shortlist.

“None of them would help Trump secure a vulnerable state (like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, or Wisconsin),” Mr. Smith wrote in an email to The Epoch Times. Those states are considered toss-ups, where either President Biden or former President Trump could score a win.


Dozens attend the NAACP Hillsborough County Branch Souls to the Polls voter drive in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 1, 2020. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

And few of the potential Trump VPs would help him expand his base with a constituency that needs bolstering, Mr. Smith said. However, Mr. Rubio is Hispanic, and Mr. Scott and Dr. Carson, who are black, might help “eat into the Democrats’ historic advantage within the African-American community,” Mr. Smith said.

The professor noted that no women appear on the list, although Ms. Noem, Ms. Haley, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) have been widely discussed.

Ms. Stefanik, a vocal defender of the former president in Congress, is the sole female named in a group of seven potential VPs reportedly undergoing a vetting process that the Trump campaign recently launched. The other six contenders who may have been sent “vetting paperwork” were: Dr. Carson, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), and Mr. Burgum, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Vance, and Mr. Scott.

The former president’s choice of running mate seemed to help him during his first presidential run in 2016.

“Trump was such a wildcard,” Mr. Smith said about the real-estate magnate who had never sought public office before running for the presidency.

“His vulnerability was with his most important voting bloc—evangelical Christians,” Mr. Smith said, underscoring Mr. Pence’s role in attracting more of those voters to the Trump-Pence ticket. It proved a winning combination in 2016, but fell short in the 2020 election.

Now, as Americans consider their presidential votes ahead of the Nov. 5 election, “Trump is a known quantity,” Mr. Smith said. “I am not sure the vice presidential pick will do much for or against him.”

As the former president contemplates his VP pick, he may be thinking about his legacy, Mr. Smith said.

“If he really wants to reshape the GOP, choosing a young, aggressive politician that will carry out his legacy might matter,” he said.

Strategic Considerations

Ms. MacManus, the Florida political scientist, says the former president must balance complex, intertwined factors while choosing from an array of possible VPs.


Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the Palm Beach Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., on June 14, 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“He’s going to need somebody who can hold the base,” she said, “but also hold onto independents and the sort of ‘never-Trumpers’ that are iffy.”

In addition, there are multiple political strategy points he must consider. Two stand out, insiders say.

First, he needs to weigh how his choice might benefit his Electoral College vote count, which is essential to winning the presidency.

Florida, where the former president has lived since 2019, carries 30 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. But if he chooses a VP candidate from that state—Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Donalds, or Mr. Rubio—that creates a complication.

The 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says electors from one state cannot vote for both a president and vice president who hail from that same state. Thus, for the Republican presidential nominee to maintain hold of Florida’s electoral votes, one of the players would need to relocate.

A second political strategy point is that if the former president chooses an existing officeholder such as one of those three Floridians, moving that person out of position could hurt the GOP’s standing.

Above all, the former president would be wise to consider which potential VP seems most reliable and solid to voters, especially amid such uncertainty, Ms. MacManus said.

The VP candidate would need to inspire confidence that he or she “could totally step in and govern a nation in need of redirection.”

The Associated Press contributed.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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