You’re not going to get a lot of suspense from a third Donald Trump presidential campaign. The American people know who this guy is, in sometimes excruciating detail; they know what he stands for politically; they know what kind of campaign he runs; and they know that he’s going to say some shocking things, even if they don’t know what.
One of the few outstanding questions is whom Trump might pick as a running mate, and when. Vice-presidential selections don’t tend to have much electoral impact, but the choice will be telling about what the former president thinks it might take to beat newly emboldened Republican rivals and Joe Biden or another Democrat. It also could have major long-term consequences: Given Trump’s advanced age and pesky habit of getting impeached, his vice president could be called to take over the top job if Trump returns to the White House.
Trump has a few paths before him. He might try to balance out the ticket, and blunt his difficulties with female voters, by choosing a woman. He might also make a similar electoral calculation and select a person of color, which would be a handy rejoinder whenever anyone points out his record of racism. He could try to unite the party and neutralize rivals by choosing a more establishment candidate, an echo of his choice of Mike Pence in 2016. Maybe he’d try to excite the base and fortify his own strengths by choosing a celebrity or conservative-media figure. Or perhaps, annoyed by the independence of some members of his first administration, he’ll pick a trusted adviser who would, as they say, “Let Trump be Trump.”
Trump has his needs, and ambitious Republican politicians have theirs. There will be no shortage of aspirants, even as Pence’s current book tour should provide a cautionary tale of how serving under Trump can debase you, nearly get you killed, and then get you coolly discarded. Here’s a rundown of possible approaches and the politicians who fit them. This list will be updated from time to time as news warrants.
The Women of MAGA
It’s unfair to say that Trump has a woman problem—he has several. This is a man whose 2016 campaign was nearly sunk by a recording in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women. He won 44 percent of the female vote in 2020, an improvement over 2016 but a margin that makes victory difficult. Women helped power strong Democratic performance in 2018, and backlash to the demise of Roe v. Wade—a signature Trump achievement—hurt Republicans badly in 2022. Besides, the zeitgeist in American politics, even in the GOP, is moving toward more diverse tickets.
- Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman who is among the wildest and most high-profile MAGA acolytes; she says she’s discussed the prospect of being Trump’s running mate with him. Having her as vice president might also destroy any appetite for impeaching and removing Trump.
- Elise Stefanik, a member of Republican leadership in the House who has more political bona fides but less profile. Just after the 2022 election, as some GOP figures equivocated, she quickly endorsed Trump for 2024.
- Kari Lake, who is said to be among Trump’s favorite protégés and brings media savvy that Trump values from her career in television. She was widely acclaimed as a candidate but somewhat surprisingly lost the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial race. At least she’s got some free time?
- Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who was Trump’s first ambassador to the United Nations, broke with him after January 6, but has since tried to mend fences. Trump tends to hold a grudge, but he’s shown a willingness to overlook past sins when it helps him and an offender is sufficiently groveling.
- Ronna Romney McDaniel, who as Trump’s handpicked head of the Republican National Committee has been a stalwart support. But her home state of Michigan turned hard blue in 2022, and she’s never run for elected office.
- Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the governor-elect of Arkansas and former White House press secretary.
- Ivanka Trump, because Trump adores his daughter, though she says she is done with politics.
- Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic representative from Hawaii and presidential candidate who has drifted MAGA-ward, recently left the Democratic Party, and is now a Fox News contributor.
- Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota and a onetime Trump favorite, but Trump aides reportedly think she’s not ready for the job, quite a statement given the source.
- Marsha Blackburn, the senator from Tennessee and a staunch culture warrior.
- Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa—a crucial early state in the battle for the nomination.
Conservatives of Color
The Republican Party has long wrestled with a disadvantage among voters of color. Trump, despite his frequent bigoted statements, actually improved the party’s standing with some groups, especially Latino voters and Black men. Nominating a person of color could mitigate Democratic attacks and make a play to cut into Democratic margins among minorities.
- Tim Scott, the senator from South Carolina who has spoken out on police targeting of Black men and has remained a Trump supporter, if a circumspect one.
- Herschel Walker, the former football player and longtime Trump friend who is currently in a runoff for Senate in Georgia. Trump has been willing to put muscle behind Walker, and a win would cement that. A defeat would tarnish Walker, but Trump might still be intrigued.
- Jeanette Nuñez, the lieutenant governor of Florida, whose selection might be a bit of a shot at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who currently seems like Trump’s most formidable rival, as might be …
- Byron Donalds, another Floridian who is a Black second-term congressman.
- Mark Robinson, the ambitious lieutenant governor of North Carolina and an outspoken Black conservative.
- Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants.
- Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of Congress.
- Kanye West, a friend and political ally of Trump’s, whose selection would produce lots of the attention both men crave. West’s anti-Semitic remarks are a liability, but who is Trump to criticize?
One of the gravest threats to a Trump renaissance is the fracturing of the Republican Party. The conservative establishment has long gritted its teeth and gone along with him, but many of its members see the poor showing in 2022 as an indication that it’s time to move on. This dilemma is familiar for Trump, who solved it by picking Pence in 2016, and he might try something similar again—though it’s safe to predict that Pence himself will not be on the ticket.
- Rick Scott, the senator from Florida who chaired Republican Senate efforts in 2022 and has been Trump’s proxy in an internecine battle with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
- Mike Pompeo, who served as Trump’s CIA director and secretary of state. He has cautiously edged away from Trump, but never broken with him.
- Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, because he’s shown an eagerness to subordinate himself to Trump and is always ambitious.
- Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, for much the same reasons.
- Josh Hawley, the senator from Missouri, who is as ambitious as the other two and has sought to intellectualize the MAGA movement.
- Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, who is second to none in cozying up to Trump and has become a trusted (though not always heeded) adviser and confidant to Trump, even as he keeps a foot in the old Republican Party.
Celebrities and Media Personalities
Trump cares deeply how people look and sound on TV, and he cares deeply about riling up his base. For two cycles, he’s worked with and expertly wielded the conservative-media establishment to his advantage. Fox’s Sean Hannity even gained a reputation inside the Trump White House as the shadow chief of staff. Why stop there, though? Trump could cement the alliance by drafting a running mate from the group.
- Tucker Carlson, the powerful and MAGA-aligned Fox News host, though Carlson is probably too loose a cannon—apt to have his own opinions or break with Trump—and is said by some to have his own presidential ambitions.
- Dan Bongino, the very popular conservative radio host and spiritual successor to Trump’s friend Rush Limbaugh.
- Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy and tireless “Stop the Steal” activist. He’d lose Trump many votes, but it would be a sight to see.
- Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser—convicted of lying to the FBI and then pardoned by Trump—and also a Stop the Steal conspirator.
- Tommy Tuberville, who is a senator from Alabama but a football coach by profession, and has joined Trump on the stump for recent campaign rallies, with explosive results.
- Tulsi Gabbard, again.
- Kanye West, again.
Trump isn’t interested in a junior partner or co-president; he wants someone to have his back in all situations. Pence did that right up until he didn’t, very consequentially, on January 6, 2021. Picking a proven loyalist without serious political ambitions might give Trump a sense of security and support and ease any paranoia he’d have about a running mate trying to overtake him. An adviser described this model to Politico as “consigliere.”
- Mark Meadows, a former congressman from North Carolina and Trump’s last chief of staff, though his connections to the January 6 fiasco might make this too complicated to bother.
- Stephen Miller, Trump’s house ideologue, policy wonk, and speechwriter, though also not someone with a great deal of personal charisma or attractiveness to voters.
- Ric Grenell, the former ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence. A man so belligerent and loyal that he once sent me a furious email after I pointed out that his old boss John Bolton has a large mustache, he has since become close to Trump.
- Sarah Huckabee Sanders, again.
- Donald Trump Jr., who’s been groomed for the family political crown—especially if Ivanka wants no part of a return to power.