Podcast: Trump's Shortlist For Vice President : The NPR Politics Podcast As the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump faces a lot of big decisions — perhaps none more so than who his running mate will be. We discuss who might be on Trump's shortlist, and what qualities he's looking for in a vice president.

This episode: political correspondent Susan Davis, senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

This podcast was produced by Jeongyoon Han, and produced & edited by Casey Morell. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi.

Listen to every episode of the NPR Politics Podcast sponsor-free, unlock access to bonus episodes with more from the NPR Politics team, and support public media when you sign up for The NPR Politics Podcast+ at plus.npr.org/politics.

How To Hire A Vice President

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SCOTT: Hi. I'm Scott (ph). I'm with my friend Sarah (ph) in Grayson Highlands State Park, Va. We're at the start line of our first-ever 50K trail race.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Whoa.

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Whoa.

SCOTT: Which is approximately 31 miles of running and 5,000 feet of vertical climb.

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

No, thank you.

SCOTT: This podcast was recorded at...

DAVIS: 11:11 a.m. on Monday, May 6.

SCOTT: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but hopefully, Sarah and I will be at least halfway through. Enjoy the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

ORDOÑEZ: Bravo.

KEITH: Yeah. Bravo. Bravo.

DAVIS: You're both runners, but that sounds like too much to me.

ORDOÑEZ: It is too much. Do run. I used to run a lot, but, you know, doing it on trails, that's like - it's like twice the distance, he says, doing that kind of stuff.

KEITH: Oh, yeah, it's so hard. Trails are so hard.

DAVIS: He lost me at vertical climb.

KEITH: He lost me at 31 miles.

DAVIS: Hey, there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover politics.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the campaign.

KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And over the weekend, former President Trump held a high-profile gathering in Florida. It was the spring retreat for the RNC and on its face, a fundraiser. But also, Franco, this was widely seen as a bit of a tryout session to be Trump's vice president. What do we know about what happened over the weekend?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, it was kind of a two-day retreat on Friday and Saturday in Florida in Palm Beach. Hundreds of donors were there and, you know, a bunch of high-profile politicians, as, you know, kind of you said. It also was, you know, largely seen as an audition for Trump's vice president. The guest list included a bunch of folks who are on the shortlist for that job, people like South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Ohio Senator J. D. Vance, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York and Senator Tim Scott, who obviously is talked about a lot, you know. And reportedly, Trump brought a lot of these folks on stage, talked them up. And, of course, it was also about raising money and assuring donors that, look, we have all these great people here, the party's doing well and that everything's under control despite the legal drama.

DAVIS: I definitely want to get into some of these names. But before we do that, Tam, there's something about the way that this is occurring that is so unusual when you think about how vice presidents have been picked in the past. It's usually done all kept to a really tight team of advisors for the nominee, a lot of cloak and dagger, secret meetings. All of this is just so public. They're so blatant about what Trump is doing here.

KEITH: You mean it's like an episode of "The Bachelor"?

DAVIS: Almost. Or "The Apprentice," you might say. An entire season of "The Bachelor."

KEITH: It does have a reality TV feel to it.

ORDOÑEZ: That's his specialty.

KEITH: Indeed. You know, in the past, we have seen tests of chemistry where leading contenders for vice president will show up at a speech in their home state with the candidate, and you're like, oh, is this an audition? Maybe. But often when the final selection is made, there are all of these evasive measures taken to make sure that reporters don't figure it out before the announcement is made. Typically, reporters do figure it out before the announcement is made. I guess one notable exception was that during COVID, the Biden campaign was actually able to keep the selection of Vice President Harris secret until they texted it out to all of their supporters. But that is rare. This, however, was more of an audition, a cattle call, if you will.

DAVIS: And to see how well people do in TV and in high-pressure situations, which matters a lot to Trump, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely. I mean, I joked that this was his specialty, but, I mean, it is. I mean, he had several, you know, successful seasons of "The Apprentice." I mean, he's got this background. He's got the television background. And clearly, you know, the Trump brand, he is a marketer. I mean, this, in many ways, is a show. Trump likes to stir the pot. He likes to control the news cycle. And this is another way to do that. I mean, let's remember that you have this big hush money trial going on in New York, and he's facing a lot of legal challenges. This is a chance to kind of change the conversation at least briefly. And even over the weekend, you had several of these potential candidates on the Sunday talk shows singing Trump's praises. So it was just another chance for, you know, some good coverage for himself.

DAVIS: But we should also note, Franco, and we've talked about this before on the podcast. Several months ago, Donald Trump already said publicly that he knew who his running mate was going to be. Now, of course, he can change his mind. Of course, Trump sometimes just likes to say whatever he says. But this seems like this could just be all a bit of a show if we take him at his word back in January.

ORDOÑEZ: It absolutely is part of the show. This is part of what Trump is very good at doing - at controlling the news cycle, controlling the coverage of him. He likes to draw this conversation out. I mean, we've been talking about his vice presidential potential candidate pick for months. And I don't expect he will choose one until right before the convention.

KEITH: I will also note that he is someone who seems to enjoy watching people fall all over themselves to get the job or get praise or otherwise contort themselves into a position to get into his good graces. I'm thinking about when he was selecting members of his cabinet during the transition in 2016 and had Mitt Romney come for an interview where oh, conveniently, lots of cameras showed up to see him there with the president-elect, who he did not like. So this is a common tactic that he has used over time. And what you end up with is something like what happened on "Meet The Press," where Tim Scott, who is one of these people who we'll be talking about and have talked about before, was asked whether he would accept the results of the 2024 election.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS" )

TIM SCOTT: I look forward to President Trump being the 47th president. Kristen, you could ask it multiple times...

KRISTEN WELKER: But Senator, just a yes or no answer.

SCOTT: ...I just answered the question at the end of the day. So the American people - the American people will make the decision...

WELKER: But I don't hear you committing...

SCOTT: ...And the decision will be for President Trump. That's clear.

WELKER: I don't hear you committing...

SCOTT: I'm not...

WELKER: ...To the election results.

SCOTT: Here's the - chill.

WELKER: Will you commit...

SCOTT: This...

WELKER: ...To...

SCOTT: This is...

WELKER: ...Accepting the election...

SCOTT: This is why...

WELKER: ...Result.

SCOTT: ...So many...

KEITH: And this really does seem to be a litmus test for the former president who feels like he was let down by his first vice president who did not do his bidding to overturn the results of the election. And Tim Scott turned himself into a pretzel...

DAVIS: Yeah.

KEITH: ...To not say whether he would accept the 2024 election results.

DAVIS: Yeah. Boy, that's a really good point. And Tama, I'm glad you brought that up too because there's a part of this selection that I think is worth talking about in that Republicans are also very focused on Kamala Harris right now, both because there is this attack that she's the real president. They're campaigning against her also, I think, you know, to weaken her as a future presidential candidate. But that also puts the juxtaposition of who Trump picks as vice president because they clearly want someone that's going to be a contrast to Vice President Harris.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, the elephant in the room here is that we have two of the oldest people in history running to be president of the United States, both of them running for a second term. And so part of the strategy of turning Harris into the real candidate is, one, she's easier to run against than President Biden for a number of reasons. She excites the Republican base, and it brings out anger in a way that Biden simply doesn't. And also, yes, Trump does appear to be casting for someone who could serve as a contrast, either via gender or via race. And Trump and his campaign are also publicly talking about wanting to win over voters of color, particularly men and younger men. And I don't know that, you know, political science would tell us that having a person of color on the ballot will actually help win over voters of color, but it is certainly something that Trump appears to be interested in.

DAVIS: All right. let's take a quick break and when we get back, we'll talk about some of the names that are being floated for vice president.

And we're back. And a few weeks ago, we did a similar conversation on the pod about possible running mates. We've already talked about folks like South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott, former Governor Nikki Haley and New York Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Those names have been in the mix. But Franco, some surprising new names on this list, and I'm going to start here - Marco Rubio.

ORDOÑEZ: Marco Rubio is a very interesting name to come up. I mean, we all remember back in 2016 when Trump and Rubio were, you know, really fighting each other. Trump called Rubio Little Marco. During his four years in office, they actually had a pretty good relationship, and, you know, there's a lot of talk about how Rubio was kind of like the pseudo-Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. You know, I think one reason that his name is being bandied about is what Tam was talking about earlier. Rubio is Hispanic. He's a minority leader. You know, he's considered, you know, a leading contender because of his potential appeal to Hispanic voters, who Trump is working very hard to court. So you add that to, you know, the strong relationship that, you know, they developed over the last four years, and it's not too surprising. And, you know, Rubio was on the Sunday shows as well yesterday, and he wasn't really downplaying the speculation about him potentially being a running mate.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, there's an inconvenient thing called the Constitution, which wouldn't allow a president and vice president to be from the same state, but I thought it was interesting when he was asked about this and whether he would leave the State of Florida. He didn't exactly directly answer that question, which is going to fuel speculation like this.

KEITH: Yeah, and...

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely.

KEITH: ...Trump has definitely renounced his citizenship in the state of New York.

DAVIS: Yeah, I don't think he's going back to New York (laughter). Another couple of names that I think are interesting to talk about - J. D. Vance, the Republican senator from Ohio, who was a former very sharp Trump critic not too long ago.

KEITH: J. D. Vance first came into national prominence by writing a book called "Hillbilly Elegy." It was, like, basically a very popular book club book after the 2016 election as people were trying to understand how it is that Trump ended up winning. He was anti-Trump for quite a while, but then he had a shift and has become 100% MAGA. That shift also coincides with him winning the race for Senate in Ohio.

DAVIS: Yeah. I think Vance is an interesting character because he's very young. He's a freshman senator. But he, to me, is someone who has really sort of embraced the new Republican Party and ideologically is very aligned with Trump and has been a very - a huge critic of the Republican establishment in the Senate, and I think sort of positioning himself, you know, if not in this election, but as somebody who wants to be a future leader of the New Republican Party. Franco, let's talk about the governors. I just love the war between the Dakotas. I've got to brand it. I'm trying to figure out the name for this. I feel like the Dakotas don't get enough attention in national politics. So this must be nice for them. You have North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem both on that list.

ORDOÑEZ: So, Doug Burgum, he ran for president on an economic message. He did not do very well. He didn't really resonate with voters. But since he dropped out of the race, he's been a very, very loyal, you know, surrogate for former President Trump. You know, this weekend, he, too, was on the air, speaking strongly about one of Trump's key issues, you know, election integrity allegations. He's done a lot of accusing the Democrats of vote buying without any evidence, you know, in ways that he says that never have happened before. You know, and also, let's point out the obvious - he also is extremely wealthy, and Republicans need money.

KEITH: And unlike Trump, he has a record of putting a lot of his own money into his campaign.

DAVIS: Tam, Kristi Noem is interesting to me because I think in the orbit of the conversation of veepstakes, there are some people that you seem less likely to be on the list and some people who clearly very much want to be on the list. And I would put Kristi Noem in the orbit of possible running mates who make it as clear as they possibly can that they would really like to be Donald Trump's running mate.

KEITH: Right. And she has been out there doing the media rounds despite the fact that she has this book where she talks about killing her family puppy, who is a 14-month-old dog and...

DAVIS: I know...

KEITH: ...She said...

DAVIS: You couldn't...

KEITH: ...Untrainable.

DAVIS: ...Let that go on Friday.

KEITH: I know. I still can't let it go. And neither can she because she was out there doing a lot of television in part promoting the book, and doubled down, suggesting that the president's dog, who has since been rehomed because he bit secret service agents, that he should also be put down. So it is - I don't know when this dog thing will go away, but aside from that, she is very clearly campaigning for vice president.

DAVIS: Yeah.

KEITH: You know, even back during the COVID years in 2020, she was out with television ads promoting her state that very much read like ads promoting her name ID to the rest of America.

DAVIS: I was actually surprised at how much response that anecdote in her book provoked. And it does tell you that, like, is - people react very viscerally to animal stories. A couple of other lawmaker names that have been floated - Wesley Hunt, a Republican Congressman from Texas, Byron Donalds, a Republican Congressman from Florida. Two rising stars in the party, both Black, both seen as potential future leaders in the party in some capacity. I'd put a little skepticism there in that members of the House don't have a strong track record of being picked for running mates. But let me ask you both this. This is sort of the big question here. There's a lot of names being floated, but the big question is, what does Trump need from a vice president in this election, and sort of what are his weaknesses that a vice president would, in theory, try to balance out on the ticket?

KEITH: What he needs and what he wants might be different things.

DAVIS: Sure.

KEITH: Because he clearly wants ultimate loyalty - someone who will fall in line, do what he wants to do, not overshadow him.

DAVIS: Unlike his former vice president, Mike Pence.

KEITH: Right. Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, what he wants is someone who can help him win. I mean, and what's interesting is, like, who he thinks that is changes by the day. I mean, earlier, a few months ago, we were all talking about Tim Scott. Trump himself was talking about Tim Scott. Now we're talking about Marco Rubio and J. D. Vance. I mean, he has always been interested in people - I think you, Sue, you mentioned earlier, people who are good on TV, and who could, you know, withstand the public scrutiny that comes along with being involved with Trump.

DAVIS: OK. That is it for us today. But before we go, a huge thank you to everyone who supports the show by donating to your local NPR station or by signing up for NPR Politics Plus. If you haven't signed up for Plus, now's your chance. You get things like sponsor-free listening, bonus episodes and, of course, support our work. On our latest bonus episode, we hear about a new podcast from NPR Station WUWM in Milwaukee. It looks at the swing state of Wisconsin and its influence on national politics and policies. To sign up for Plus, just go to plus.npr.org/politics. I'm Susan Davis, I cover politics.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the campaign.

KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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