Los Angeles Times
Republicans angling to join Trump’s ticket
With primaries nearly a year off, the race is heating up early to be his choice for the vice presidential spot.
OXON HILL, Md. — Trips to Mar-a-Lago. Glowing speeches. Front-row seats at major events.
The first Republican presidential primaries are nearly a year away and the candidate field is unsettled. But already, a shadow contest of another sort is underway, with several Republicans openly jockeying to position themselves as potential running mates to former President Trump, considered the early front-runner for the GOP nomination.
“A lot of people are right now auditioning,” Trump boasted to supporters in Florida last month.
The mere mention of a running mate this early in the process is a departure from the traditional presidential primary timeline. Candidates typically spend the opening months of a campaign introducing themselves to voters and sharing their visions for the country.
But as a former president, Trump needs no introduction and is attempting to project an air of inevitability around his campaign, particularly as increasing attention is being paid to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely seen as his toughest potential GOP rival.
Trump campaign officials say they have not been actively discussing the vice presidential search.
“We appreciate all support for President Trump, but the clear focus is on making sure that he wins the Republican nomination and is well-positioned to win the general election in 2024,” said Jason Miller, a longtime Trump advisor.
Even so, some would-be candidates are taking full advantage of opportunities to be in proximity to Trump, at his Florida resort and various events. The dynamic was on full display earlier this month at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, where three women who have been mentioned as possible vice presidential contenders sat in the audience to cheer Trump’s headline speech.
They were Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Elise Stefanik of New York and news anchor Kari Lake, the failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate, who ended her remarks at a keynote event dinner by kissing a portrait of Trump.
While Trump, according to people who have spoken to him, is in no rush to make a decision and understands that he has to let the nomination process play out, he has nonetheless talked through possible choices
since well before he formally announced his candidacy in the fall. In those conversations, he has indicated his interest in selecting a woman this time.
But allies say Trump is looking, first and foremost, for someone who will be unabashedly loyal, after feeling burned by then-Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to try to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election.
In 2016, running as a celebrity businessman with no experience in politics, Trump chose a person who was, in many ways, his total opposite, picking the Indiana governor and former congressman who could bolster his standing with conservatives and the religious right.
This time, Trump is looking for someone more like himself, said Michael Caputo, a longtime friend and advisor who believes Stefanik would be Trump’s best choice.
“I think the president learned a lot from his experience with Pence,” Caputo said. “I think this time Trump’s going to be looking for someone cut from the same cloth he is — not from a different, complementary cloth.”
Trump is also looking for someone with star power but has signaled that he is reluctant to choose someone who might overshadow him.
Lake is among those who appear most eager for the job. She is popular with Trump’s MAGA base, and has promoted her victory in a CPAC straw poll that asked audience members whom they would like to see as the Republican vice presidential nominee.
She is seen as unequivocally loyal to the former president, but detractors note she lost her only race and continues to dispute the results, which would draw attention to Trump’s own election failures and intensify criticism that he is too focused on the past.
She said in a statement earlier this month that she was still “100% dedicated to serving as Arizona Governor” — even though the job is held by Democrat Katie Hobbs, who defeated her in November. She added that she would “also work to make sure President Trump gets back in the White House ASAP” and that “anything outside of those two goals is nothing but a distraction.”
A person close to Lake said that she’d had no formal discussions about the role and was gearing up for a potential run for the Senate. But the person, who, like others, discussed private conversations on condition of anonymity, also said Lake was still unapologetically pro-Trump and would probably do anything he asked.
Greene, the flame-throwing congresswoman who recently proposed a “national divorce” between red and blue states, is also widely seen as eager for the role. She was a constant presence at Trump’s rallies during the midterm election campaign, often speaking during the pre-show program, and has been a frequent visitor to Florida — including sharing a dinner there with Lake on Valentine’s Day.
“She sees herself on the short list for Trump’s VP. Paraphrasing Cokie Roberts, when MTG looks in the mirror, she sees a potential president smiling back,” Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who frequently hosts Greene on his podcast, told NBC, referring to the late political reporter.
When asked about her vice presidential ambitions recently, Greene told reporters, “That’s up to President Trump who he chooses.”
Stefanik is also frequently mentioned as a likely contender but has taken a subtler approach. She endorsed Trump before he announced he was running, and has become one of his chief defenders on Capitol Hill. At CPAC, she used her speech to call for Trump’s reelection, and introduced him at a private super PAC event. Trump, in turn, praised her as a “rocket ship.”
People close to Stefanik say that rather than overtly angling for the position, she is focused on her work as House GOP conference chair and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, believing that if she does it well, good things will follow. But she nonetheless has the support of several Trump allies, who see her as disciplined and less risky than other potential options, and also point to her record for winning swing suburban districts.
Stefanik said in an interview that she had not discussed the position with Trump, though she has previously said she would be honored to serve in his administration.
“We have a lot of work to do over the next two years and I am gonna work no matter what to make sure that we have a Republican president, House and Senate in 2024,” she said. “So that’s what [I’m] focused on, and it’s a big job.”
Trump has also discussed other potential running mates, including two of his rivals for the presidential nomination: his former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who has been reluctant to criticize the former president since launching her own presidential bid; and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who would be the first Black man on a Republican presidential ticket.
Allies of Haley and Scott say they are serious about running for president in their own right, not in hopes of angling to serve as vice president or in another Cabinet post — though many believe Haley, in particular, would be open to an offer.
Also mentioned as possible contenders: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who is also considering her own presidential run; Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who supported Trump in 2016 and 2020; and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who appeared alongside the former president as he visited her state Monday.
“We’re going to have a lot of great choices for vice president,” Trump said during his swing through Iowa. “We’re gonna pick a great one.”
Trump ‘learned a lot from his experience with Pence. I think this time [he’s] going to be looking for someone cut from the same cloth he is — not from a different, complementary cloth.’
— Michael Caputo, a friend and advisor to Trump