Donald Trump looking for ‘fighter’ as Republican running mate

<span>Donald Trump in Las Vegas on 9 June 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images</span>
Donald Trump in Las Vegas on 9 June 2024.Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Donald Trump is looking for a “fighter” as his running mate in this year’s presidential election and regards factors such as their gender or race as irrelevant, according to sources close to the former US president.

Conventional wisdom used to hold that Trump was likely to choose a woman or a person of color as his potential vice-president in an effort to broaden his appeal. But aides close to the presumptive Republican nominee currently say he will not take so-called identity politics into account.

Instead, Trump, who is still trying to make up his mind, wants a candidate who is media-savvy and will fight for him on adversarial TV networks. “In short,” a Trump ally said, “he wants someone who is everything Mike Pence wasn’t.”

Former vice-president was a valuable asset during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns – the Christian conservative who shored up support among Republicans suspicious of the thrice-married reality TV star. But Pence’s refusal to comply with Trump’s demand to overturn the 2020 election led to a falling out and made Pence a target of the January 6 rioters.

Trump is seeking a “Goldilocks” running mate this time: strong but loyal, in tune with Maga but not over-rehearsed, telegenic but not likely to outshine him. His choice will go up against Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to serve as vice-president.

But his campaign does not regard having a Black candidate – such as Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina – as intrinsically helpful, preferring to reach voters of color through community outreach and policy plans. A source said the campaign hears from Black voters that identity politics matter less to them than the economy and community safety.

Biden is 81 while Trump turned 78 on Friday. Both candidates have already served one term, putting more focus on the vice-presidency than in a typical election year. Fifteen vice-presidents have gone on to be president, eight of whom succeeded to the office upon the death of the incumbent.

Jim McLaughlin, a former pollster for Trump, said: “It’s got to be somebody that he knows can be the president of the United States because – he hasn’t said this but other people are saying this – this could be a person that’s in the White House for the next 12 years, so he understands the importance of that.”

Speaking on a panel in Washington organised by polling firm JL Partners, McLaughlin added: “I think it’s also somebody who definitely believes in his agenda. I don’t think he’s going to go for somebody to have some sort of an ideological or necessarily political balance.

“He’s going to want an ‘America first’ Republican to be his nominee. I get calls a lot of times from candidates: ‘Can you help me with the Trump endorsement?’ My first question to them is: what kind of relationship do you have with him? Because loyalty is huge with him. It’s got to be somebody he is comfortable with as a person.”

Earlier this month, ABC News reported that Trump’s campaign had started a process of formally requesting information from a small handful of potential running mates. It named Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota; JD Vance, a senator for Ohio; and Marco Rubio, a senator for Florida.

Speculation around Burgum, a 67-year-old multimillionaire businessman, has been gathering momentum in recent weeks, culminating in an 1,800-word profile in the New York Times. The article included details such as Burgum having worked as a chimney sweep in college, wearing a black-top hat and tails to evoke Dick Van Dyke’s character in the film Mary Poppins.

Rubio, 53, a son of Cuban immigrants, could potentially help the former president peel away Latino voters from Biden and, as the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, brings foreign policy experience. The US constitution poses a headache, however, since it bans electors from selecting a president and vice-president from the same state – and both Trump and Rubio call Florida home.

Vance, 39, rose to fame in 2016 with his memoir Hillbilly Elegy about growing up poor in Appalachia. That year, he was a fierce critic of Trump, at one point calling him “cultural heroin”. Since 2018, however, he has embraced the 45th president and befriended his son, Don Jr. Vance is seen as an intellectual standard bearer for the ‘America first’ ideology with a connection to blue-collar voters.

Reed Galen, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, said: “Vance tends to make the most sense. There’s the anti-Trump video that will be played a million times, but everyone’s got something like that now probably except for Ben Carson. But Vance seems to me to be the person who can bring youth to the ticket. He can lay back on that Hillbilly Elegy bootstraps bullshit that Republicans love.”

He added: “Trump is certainly more dynamic on stage because he’s nuts – he’s a coked-up Tasmanian devil – but I would venture to say that, for a lot of Republicans, Vance reminds them of a Republican party that they want. Burgum’s boring but he’s got money. He’s not going to hurt you. He’ll do whatever he’s told. I think Vance would, too.”

Other contenders include former housing secretary Ben Carson, the senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the representative Byron Donalds of Florida, the former Democratic representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the representative Elise Stefanik of New York. Scott, of South Carolina, who is African American, challenged Trump in the Republican primary race but is now a staunch advocate.

Asked by the Newsmax network recently whether he is close to choosing a running mate, Trump replied: “I thought Tim Scott didn’t run as good of a race as he’s capable of running for himself, but as a surrogate for me, he’s unbelievable. He’s been incredible. Governor Burgum from North Dakota has been incredible. Marco Rubio has been great. JD Vance has been great. We’ve had so many great people out there.”

Trump has ruled out Nikki Haley, his former US ambassador to the UN, who eviscerated him during the primaries but now says she will vote for him. Another potential pick, Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, is widely seen has having disqualified herself after writing in a memoir that she shot dead an “untrainable” dog that she “hated” on her family farm.

Trump is expected to make the announcement at next month’s Republican national convention in Milwaukee. Given his mercurial nature and flair for theatricality, anything is possible. The names circulated by Trump, his campaign and the media might yet be upstaged by an entirely unexpected nominee.

Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinktank in Washington, said: “It would not at all surprise me if Trump were to pull a name out of left and right field that he’s really been looking at and this is an entire misdirection.”

Will it matter? Not much, if history is any guide. Olsen added: “If somebody is going to move the needle for Trump, it’s going to be somebody like a woman or a Black person. I guess I just won’t predict that because it’s quite clear going back decades that the identity of a vice-presidential nominee has a very limited and regional effect, if it has an effect at all.

“You can be somebody who is callow and unprepared for office, like Dan Quayle, and George Herbert Walker Bush still comes from 17 points behind to win a comfortable seven-point victory. You can be somebody who clearly is out of her depth, like Sarah Palin – John McCain still rises or falls on his own merits, not Palin’s problems.