The veepstakes goes 'Apprentice': Will Trump really pick Rubio, Vance or Burgum?


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For months, the media-industrial complex has churned out useless speculation about the veepstakes, much of it generated by the wannabe candidates themselves. 

Out of nowhere, these stories would appear: Tom Cotton, an unusually strong candidate! Ben Carson! Byron Donalds! Glenn Youngkin! People who you knew, whatever their qualifications, didn’t really have a shot at becoming Donald Trump’s running mate.

And then there was the former president himself, who met or campaigned with most of the contenders, watching their TV interviews, in a process resembling “The Apprentice.”

A particularly absurd moment came when Axios reported that Nikki Haley was under “active consideration” for VP. The piece collapsed the next day when Trump put out a statement saying Haley was most definitely not being considered, which was no surprise given the bad blood between them and her lack of an endorsement.

VEEPSTAKES VERVE: CONTENDERS CREATE MEDIA BOOMLETS WITH LEAKS AND MANIPULATION

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The final leg of former President Trump’s veepstakes is underway and only three serious contenders live to tell the tale: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

What made most of the stories shaky is that Trump hadn’t made up his mind. Now he says he has, but hasn’t told the lucky contender. Of course, there’s nothing stopping Trump from changing his mind at the last minute, which he is famously prone to do.

Still, with the vetting process under way and multiple news outlets reporting that it is down to a fortunate trio, I’m inclined to take those stories more seriously.

Those three are Marco Rubio, J.D. Vance and Doug Burgum.

Each brings strengths and weaknesses to the table, so such decisions often boil down to whom Trump is most comfortable with. Eight years ago, it was Mike Pence, who was the ultimate loyalist until Jan. 6.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are all in contention to be Trump’s running mate for the 2024 presidential election. (Left: Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Center: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Right: Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Rubio, the only one with a national reputation, might seem a no-brainer. To name the first Hispanic vice president would obviously excite that community, even though it is not a monolith and Cuban-Americans would be the most energized. I don’t see the Constitutional bar against two candidates from the same state as a big deal, as the Florida senator can easily change his address.

I’ve interviewed Rubio several times, but more important, I watched him do town halls in 2016 and he is a charismatic speaker. He has foreign policy chops and has long since mended fences with Trump over their mutual name-calling (“con man”).

RUBIO SAYS BEING TRUMP RUNNING MATE WOULD BE ‘INCREDIBLE HONOR’

As a strong speaker, he would definitely make news – which is also his pitfall. Trump doesn’t like to be overshadowed. From day one, whether overtly or not, Rubio would be running for president in 2028.

What’s more, Rubio has made a point of not campaigning for the job. He didn’t join some of the other aspirants by showing up for Trump’s Manhattan trial. This, by some accounts, has made Trump question how badly Marco wants the job, but I think it’s just a different style.

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Third-term Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a major 2016 primary rival of former President Trump, now sits on his vice presidential shortlist. However, Rubio must exercise caution in how much of Trump’s limelight he might try and seize. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

J.D. Vance is not a household name and has been a senator for less than two years. He gained public notice for his best-selling book “Hillbilly Elegy,” which drew widespread praise (and some criticism) for explaining the kind of White voters who would fuel Trump’s win. He’s also a success story, rising from a tough childhood in which his grandmother had to plead for more food from Meals on Wheels.

But Vance opposed the ex-president in 2016 and was on the “Never Trump” train (“idiot,” “reprehensible”), a stance he conveniently dropped when he ran for office.

Vance undoubtedly has the sharpest intellect of the group, the backing of Donald Trump Jr. and the most pro-MAGA voting record, but his view of the revolution differs from Trump’s. Two years ago, Vance said in an interview that Trump should “fire every single mid-level bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people.” That, of course, would violate civil service rules.

SEN. JD VANCE ON TRUMP VP RUMORS: THE PRESIDENT HAS NOT ASKED ME

Vance told New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who knew him before he was an author: “I was confronted with the reality that part of the reason the anti-Trump conservatives hated Donald Trump was that he represented a threat to a way of doing things in this country that has been very good for them.”

The Ohio senator recently told the Washington Post: “The price of being beloved by the establishment is you don’t say anything interesting.”

And that is precisely the problem. Vance will say lots of interesting things, which would draw attention from the boss.

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“Hillbilly Elegy” author and freshman Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, once an ardent Trump opponent, changed his tune once he sought federal office and is now a finalist in the former president’s veepstakes. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Which brings us to Doug Burgum. He’s a governor! Has been for eight years. Yes, the governor of the small state of North Dakota, whose three electoral votes Trump would win anyway, but the former president has spent a lot of time with him and really likes him – despite Burgum running against him earlier in the presidential election cycle.

For one thing, he’s a fellow tycoon, having sold his tech company two decades ago to Microsoft for a billion bucks. For another, he’s charming in a subdued way. And Burgum has “the look” – the dignified appearance of a vice president – and Trump loves to embrace those who look like they’re from central casting.

When I interviewed Burgum a few weeks back, he downplayed his chances and said he has a dozen private-sector ideas he’d love to try rather than taking a Cabinet position. He skillfully answered issue questions without missing a beat, sometimes with a crisp one-liner. 

BURGUM TOUTS ‘MUCH CLOSER’ RELATIONSHIP WITH TRUMP WHILE STUMPING FOR FORMER PRESIDENT IN BATTLEGROUND STATE

Having attended the Alvin Bragg case and then read the media coverage, “I think that they were in a different trial than I was at … Americans have already acquitted Donald Trump,” he told me.  

Yet, as one of my colleagues observed, he’s just rough-edged enough and new to the national game that he still seems like a real person.

The mild-mannered gent can also throw a punch. Burgum told FOX’s Martha MacCallum last week that “under Joe Biden, we’re actually living under a dictatorship today where he’s, you know, bypassing Congress on immigration policy; he’s bypassing Congress on protecting our border; he’s bypassing Congress on student loan forgiveness; he’s defying the Supreme Court.” That line of attack has reverberated ever since.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum quickly surged to the top of former President Trump’s vice presidential shortlist after his own unsuccessful candidacy for the Republican nomination. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So, by the process of elimination, Burgum creates the fewest problems for Trump. He’s not angling to run for president in four years, he’s not going to draw much attention from the president and he has a greater chance than I thought he did when we did our interview.

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Now this is where I have to caution that this reasoned analysis could be off base. Trump could pick Rubio, for instance, or could go with someone not on the list of three. He could change his mind at the last minute. How would we know, since we have no way of checking who he says he’s now picked?

A word about the timing of the announcement: There are many reasons why unveiling a running mate at the convention has fallen out of favor, and his name is Dan Quayle. The media unloaded on George H.W. Bush’s pick, questioning everything from the senator’s intelligence to past ethical questions, and it completely disrupted the convention.

When John McCain picked Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor and hockey mom was a smash hit at the convention. Not until later, under questioning by Katie Couric and others, did she come to be viewed as inexperienced and unprepared.

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So I suspect Trump will announce his choice just before the Milwaukee convention, letting the story play out before the spotlight should understandably shift to the nominee.

But again, with Donald Trump, anything is possible.



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