The present-day Republican Party can best be understood as the result of an arduous, years-long effort to deal with the situation Donald Trump has thrust upon it. But for many in the party, that situation also has presented huge opportunities for advancement.
And perhaps no prize is as big as becoming Trump’s running mate — a position which, you might have heard, is vacant.
Trump has again come to dominate a Republican presidential primary. And while he has hardly yet secured the nomination — his criminal indictments will continue to loom over him — there’s already early jockeying to replace the apostate Mike Pence as his would-be running mate. Stories have been written for months about whether Trump might go for a woman this time, whether Tim Scott could parlay his presidential bid into the job and, most recently, about whether Kari Lake might be overplaying her hand. Trump himself has repeatedly played up the idea that people are gunning for the job.
It’s all rather early and presumptuous, but it’s real. And unlike 2016, when many of us (raising my hand here) thought Pence’s selection wasn’t even worth that “bucket of warm spit” — because Trump, of course, was going to lose — nobody is making such assumptions this time. Pence hasn’t exactly parlayed his four years as Trump’s vice president into 2024 front-runner status, but there’s no question that the 2024 slot would afford whoever gets it a shot to lead the party in 2028. Trump’s legal problems and the prospect of a criminal conviction (whenever these cases might be resolved) could make his No. 2 pick even more important.
But who could be in the mix? And what might Trump even be looking for?
At its core, the choice Trump faces seems to be between an ideological ally and a more pragmatic pick like Pence. But increasingly in the Republican Party, the lines between those two have been substantially blurred.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) comes from an establishment background but has reinvented herself as a MAGA true believer. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is very much in the ideological-ally camp, but she has at least tried to make nice with establishment leaders including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), which apparently has helped get her kicked out of the House Freedom Caucus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) would seem to be the pragmatic pick if ever there was one, but he’s making a huge play for the extreme, internet-troll, own-the-libs wing of the party.
Another key question is who would take the job. Even more than in 2016, Trump’s brand is divisive in a way that would surely give at least some Republicans pause. When Pence took the job, it made sense at least in part because he was at risk of losing his bid to be reelected governor in red Indiana. Other more-establishment Republicans shied away from the gig, leaving Trump with a shortlist of candidates who weren’t exactly at their political peaks.
For now, here’s who we think might make sense, broken down into three categories.
Kari Lake: Despite never holding office, Lake exudes Trumpism arguably more than anyone on this list — right down to her thoroughly bogus, dead-ender election denialism. She did underperform in 2022, like a lot of Trump-aligned candidates, but not as much as many of them. The early knock on her is that she might be trying a bit too hard, and that Trump doesn’t want to be overshadowed.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: More than most new governors, the Arkansas governor has made a strong play for a national profile by going hard to the right, including on culture war issues. She also has a relationship with Trump and plenty of experience vouching for him as White House press secretary.
Marjorie Taylor Greene: A Greene selection would give the national party fits more than anyone on this list; even with her attempted reinvention of herself, she’s spouting many of the same conspiracy theories and proving just as unwieldy. She also performed surprisingly poorly in her ruby-red Georgia district in 2022.
Marsha Blackburn: The senator from Tennessee has long been one of the most right-wing, culture-war-focused senators, and her name was floated a time or two in 2016.
Josh Hawley: The senator from Missouri says he’s not interested. But many people say that, and perhaps no senator is as much at pains to play to the MAGA crowd as he is.
Tim Scott: This is among the ones that just makes too much sense, especially if Trump wants to go with a woman or an African American. The senator from South Carolina generally has tried to avoid getting wrapped up in the Trump controversy of the day, and perhaps because of that, he is well-regarded party-wide. The question is whether he’s shown Trump enough loyalty.
Elise Stefanik: The New York congresswoman might be up there with Scott in terms of who makes sense. And her decision not to try to climb the GOP leadership ladder after the 2022 election led more than a few to (very validly) speculate that she might be angling for this job instead.
Nikki Haley: Haley’s later-aborted break with Trump after Jan. 6 would surely loom over her potential selection. But she was popular when she served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations and could set herself up well with a strong 2024 campaign.
Kim Reynolds: The Iowa governor is enjoying being courted by all the presidential hopefuls coming to her state and has said she’ll remain neutral in the primary.
Kristi L. Noem: The South Dakota governor doesn’t have much of a national profile, despite considering her own 2024 bid. Without such a bid, it’s tough to see how she’d rise to the top.
Ron DeSantis: The main problems here are that he and Trump are going after each other right now and that they live in the same state. (This would mean they would forfeit Florida’s 30 electoral votes since the Constitution says at least one member of the ticket in a given state must be from another state, which would be a dealbreaker.) The former could be ironed-over in the service of building a winning ticket. The latter probably would force Trump to change his residency back to New York. But there is some precedent for this kind of thing.
Glenn Youngkin: The Virginia governor is keeping his options open on his own campaign. In his 2021 campaign, he was viewed as navigating the post-Trump era with aplomb, in both the primary and the general election.
Francis Suarez: The Miami mayor is running his own 2024 campaign, but many see it as a steppingstone, and Kellyanne Conway apparently is a big fan. (The residency thing, of course, applies here, too.)
Tulsi Gabbard: The former congresswoman and former Democrat has become a Fox News favorite, but her résumé probably is too limited.
Byron Donalds: The Florida congressman has emerged as a significant voice of the House Freedom Caucus and younger Republicans, particularly during the debate over McCarthy’s speakership. But he’s only in his second term in Congress.
Tucker Carlson: The buzz around Carlson has died down since he was canned by Fox News, and he’s said he has no interest in elective office. We also learned in the Dominion lawsuit against Fox that he privately bashed Trump.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Who knows, if he somehow runs a solid 2024 campaign?
Michael Flynn: Can you truly rule anything out?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: He’s running a very Trumpian campaign (albeit in the Democratic primary), latching on to many in Trumpworld who are happy to promote him in the service of trying to embarrass President Biden. But, despite all the hype, he’s not exactly ideologically aligned with Trump on major issues, and his modest level of early success seems to owe more to Democratic disillusionment with Biden and a golden Democratic name than anything else.