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Trump ‘likes keeping everybody guessing,’ former president’s adviser says of VP sweepstake

Experts are divided on the degree to which it would pose a challenge if Trump and his vice presidential pick lived in the same state, and one had to declare a new residence.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments as (left, red tie) Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) looks on at Manhattan Criminal Court, in New York City, on May 13, 2024. Photo by Spencer Platt/pool/AFP via Getty Images.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the press at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments as (left, red tie) Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) looks on at Manhattan Criminal Court, in New York City, on May 13, 2024. Photo by Spencer Platt/pool/AFP via Getty Images.

As U.S. President Joe Biden and Donald Trump prepare to spar at Thursday night’s debate, the former president has reportedly selected a running mate without informing his vice presidential pick—leaving open one of the biggest questions in the race.

A source, who is a self-described longtime political adviser to Trump and who spoke with JNS on the condition of anonymity, said that the decision was still up in the air when the source last spoke with Trump earlier in June.

“It’s like ‘The Apprentice,’” the source told JNS. “He likes keeping everybody guessing, keeping himself guessing.” 

Trump is “the type of man that asks everyone he meets what they think about certain policy issues or people,” the source added. “He’s not really revealing much about who he’s leaning to or against. He’s keeping that very close, even to his closest associates.”

Those under close consideration for the vice presidential pick include Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and governors Doug Burgum (R-N.D.) and Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.), according to the source.

All of those potential candidates are pro-Israel, though Rubio voted against a foreign aid package in April that included billions of dollars for Israel because he said the bill did not address U.S. border security.

“If somebody is not supportive of Israel, they’re not going to be a nominee,” the Trump adviser told JNS.

The former president’s campaign has requested vetting materials from all of those potential picks except Youngkin, Politico reported earlier this month. The campaign also asked for vetting information from Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development.

“He’s very concerned about the base,” the source told JNS. “He wants a candidate that really resonates with the base, but wins over middle voters.”

William Galston, chair of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told JNS that there is a mix of four strategic options that Trump could consider in selecting his running mate.

The former president has already rejected the first option, according to Galston. “Unless there’s a huge surprise,” he said. “That option is using the nomination to heal a rift in the party.”

“If Trump had been serious about that, he would have looked a lot harder at Nikki Haley,” Galston said.

The longtime Trump adviser agreed that the former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was “definitely out.”

“He doesn’t gel well with her,” the adviser said. “Doesn’t think she’s consistent.”

‘Emphasizes your distinctive persona’

Galston told JNS that the second strategic option would be for Trump to select someone with governing experience like Burgum, who might not expand the ticket’s appeal with voters but who could help wield greater power in office. 

A successful investor and business owner before entering politics, Burgum could potentially provide a cash injection to the campaign from his estimated $100 million net worth. 

The North Dakota governor would also be a more staid, midwestern presence on the campaign in contrast to Trump’s New York bravado. But Trump could also decide to pick someone cast in his own image, according to Galston.

“The third strategy is doubling down,” he said. “You pick someone who resembles you and emphasizes your distinctive persona.”

Vance, who was first elected to the Senate in 2022, appears to be the closest to that description with his embrace of tariffs and opposition to U.S. aid for Ukraine, putting him squarely in the Republican Party’s “America first” wing.

Joel Goldstein, professor emeritus of law at Saint Louis University who has written two books about the vice presidency, told JNS that picking Vance would raise questions about the senator’s readiness for office.

“Vance has been in the Senate for a year and a half,” Goldstein said. “It’d be surprising that somebody with such little governmental experience would be picked to be the running mate for one of the oldest people who’s ever run for president. That he would be a heartbeat away.”

Trump, 78, was the oldest man to serve as U.S. president until Biden, 81, was elected. Their age is likely to increase scrutiny of both of their running mates.

The fourth option, according to Galston, would be for Trump to pick a candidate who broadens his demographic appeal. That could include Scott, who is black, in a bid to make further inroads with African-American voters or Stefanik to shore up the women’s vote or Rubio, who might appeal to Latinos.

Goldstein told JNS that while the vice presidential nominee’s influence on the electorate is small, the difference could swing the election.

“It’s important because many of our elections are affected at the margins,” he said. “You’re talking about making a marginal difference in a relatively small number of battleground states where the electoral college is going to be decided.”

An added wrinkle if Trump were to select Rubio or Donalds is the 12th Amendment prohibition on the president and vice president inhabiting the same state.

The two experts and the Trump adviser with whom JNS spoke disagreed about how difficult it would be for either Trump or the vice presidential nominee to re-establish residency outside Florida before election day.

“I think that’s a minor issue,” the Trump adviser said, noting that former president George W. Bush and vice president Dick Cheney overcame the same issue in 2000 and that Trump has Virginia and New Jersey residences.

Galston doubted that Trump would be the one to move, however, and noted that the former president might demand that a sitting officeholder abandon the state he represents as an added loyalty test.

“How much do you really care about this?” posed Galston, channeling Trump. “Not willing to give up your Florida residency then, well, maybe you’re not the right guy after all.”

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