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As Trump narrows VP options, a select few seem to be rising to the top

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The way that presidential campaigns work, the nominee for a major party has to come up with a vice presidential nominee sometime before the convention, which for Republicans is less than three weeks away. Donald Trump is treating his vice presidential search a little like his old days hosting "The Apprentice," and the hopefuls are rushing to make their final sales pitches. NPR's Jeongyoon Han reports.

JEONGYOON HAN, BYLINE: The search for a vice president has been going exactly how former President Donald Trump wants. He's been egging on the intrigue around his pick, most recently in an interview with Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I have sort of a pretty good idea. Look, we have some really talented people. I have a pretty good idea.

HAN: And Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says Trump is intentionally stoking interest in the search.

RON BONJEAN: He wants to make the choice of the vice president fit his "Apprentice"-style contestant gamesmanship, where candidates really try out for the position.

HAN: Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, says Trump knows what he's looking for.

ALEX CONANT: Donald Trump wants to find a vice presidential nominee who can help him win.

HAN: That's someone who can bring in moderates, independents and even Democrats. And Bonjean adds, the person needs to be vocal, loyal...

BONJEAN: And one that's a ferocious and tenacious attack person that can go on the offensive at any point in time on behalf of the president, no matter what the situation.

HAN: So who's up for the task? Well, there's South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. He showed Trump his cards in January shortly after dropping out of the presidential race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SCOTT: I just love you.

TRUMP: No. That's why he's a great politician.

HAN: Many of his colleagues in the Senate would agree. He's well respected as the only Black Republican among them. Conant says his personal story growing up poor and the son of a single mother speaks to all Americans.

CONANT: I've never seen somebody fire up a room like Tim Scott can.

HAN: But Scott continues to defend Trump over January 6 and refuses to say if he'd accept this year's election results, which might alienate voters who disapprove of Trump's handling of the 2020 election. Then there's Elise Stefanik, a Congresswoman from New York who also chairs the House Republican Conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELISE STEFANIK: Are we ready to reelect my good friend and your good friend, President Donald J. Trump?

HAN: Stefanik started her career as a reliable moderate but has since shed that identity to become one of Trump's strongest defenders, beginning with this impeachment hearings in 2019. But because she's from a blue state, Bonjean says she probably wouldn't add to Trump's Electoral College math.

BONJEAN: What Trump gains is a messenger, but doesn't get the votes he needs to deliver the presidency.

HAN: Another name on the list is North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. He made it big in the tech and software industries in the 2000s, making him a proven businessman, which Trump relates to and values. Plus, that means there's fundraising potential. Here's Conant.

CONANT: I don't think you would pick somebody just because they have a big checkbook, but, yes, obviously, Burgum's done very well and could throw some money into the race.

HAN: Florida Senator Marco Rubio is another name gaining attention. Conant worked for his 2016 presidential campaign.

CONANT: Rubio's somebody who generally has a very positive message, would work very well in general election, as it has in the Senate races that he's run in Florida, where he's done very well with moderate voters, with independent voters.

HAN: Rubio would bring in his experience in foreign policy. Plus, he's a fluent Spanish speaker who could bring more Latino voters into Trump's tent. And finally, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance is breaking out in the final moments as a contender. He can leverage his background growing up in the Rust Belt to motivate less-engaged white voters, who turn out in relatively low numbers, to cast ballots for Trump. It's hard to imagine this short list in Trump's previous White House bids. Stefanik criticized him in 2016 for comments he made in the leaked tape from an "Access Hollywood" interview. Vance once described Trump as America's Hitler. And here's what Rubio had to say about Trump back in 2016, when they were competitors vying for the Republican nomination.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCO RUBIO: Have you seen his hands? They're like this. And you know what they say about men with small hands.

HAN: But as it has become Trump's Republican Party, and after four years as president, he's picked up allies who were once adversarial. So now these relatively young and ambitious Republicans are all eager to be Trump's vice president. Here's Conant.

CONANT: They think he's going to win, and he's only got one term left, so whoever the vice presidential pick is now is going to be the front-runner at this point for 2028, which is not that far from now.

HAN: Trump, meanwhile, is taking his time, at least for now. He said his VP pick will be at the first presidential debate on Thursday.

Jeongyoon Han, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeongyoon Han
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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