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With the election 5 months away, Trump has yet to pick a running mate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are just weeks away from one of the biggest political events of the election campaign season. That would be the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. Former President Trump is, of course, the party's presumptive nominee. He has yet to announce his running mate. In a recent interview with Fox News, he skirted the question of who that will be yet again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS")

DONALD TRUMP: I have sort of a pretty good idea. Look, we have some really talented people. I have a pretty good idea, but I think it's - probably I'll do it the way it's usually done.

KELLY: NPR's Franco Ordoñez and Jeongyoon Han are here with me now to break down which candidates may be rising to the top and why it matters. Welcome to you both.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

JEONGYOON HAN, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: Hi. OK, Jeongyoon, you kick us off. I have to say this already feels like the longest VP search in history.

HAN: Yeah.

KELLY: Where do things stand right now?

HAN: Yeah, I mean, it really has. Trump has been the party's presumptive nominee for months now, which is why speculation has only been mounting. Trump said early on that there were as many as 15 candidates in the mix, but that list is whittling down fast. He recently asked for the financial records of eight people, which is a sign that he's vetting these candidates.

Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, are some of the names that have risen to the top. We're also watching South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik closely. These are all loyal Trump allies who have made an effort to support him without stealing the spotlight from him. So they've put the ball in Trump's court, and he's in crunch time as he makes a final decision.

KELLY: And Franco, jump in here. There have been moments - I will confess - that have reminded me recently of Trump's reality show days. I wonder if you're sharing this experience and how that translates to the VP pick process.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It really is like his old show, "The Apprentice." I mean, this is Trump's MO. I mean, he's a showman. It's a way for him to generate headlines, to control the narrative. And he's inviting the speculation. You know, he's talking about it on the campaign trail and stoking it for fundraising. I mean, really, from early on, there's been little doubt about Trump being the nominee, so the focus kind of naturally turned to the VP candidates' race.

KELLY: It's the only drama on the Republican side.

ORDOÑEZ: Exactly.

KELLY: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and for him to draw this out, it really allows him more opportunities to see how, you know, they deal with the media scrutiny. You know, he likes people who are good on TV, who do well on TV, and he gets to see how they talk about him.

KELLY: Jeongyoon, more specifics on what we think Trump might be looking for this time.

HAN: Well, I mean, the bottom line is this is a race, and so he just wants someone who can help him win. That's what Mike Pence did for him back in 2016. The former Indiana governor brought more evangelical voters to Trump. That was a group who had been skeptical of him up to that point. Now, though, evangelicals are some of his strongest supporters, so he needs to appeal to a different group of voters. I asked Alex Conant about this. He's a Republican strategist who worked on Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign.

ALEX CONANT: Trump really, really wants to win this election. And so he's going to be looking for somebody who appeals to independent voters, to conservatives and potentially even some Democrats.

HAN: This is especially important because as a new NPR/PBS News/Marist poll shows, the race is a dead heat between Biden and Trump. So Trump is definitely considering who can appeal to new voters. But like Franco said, it's also about performance. Don't forget, this person will have to debate against Vice President Harris when the time comes. And based on the likely schedule of that debate, it could be right after they're picked and nominated at the convention. So it's got to be someone who can hit the ground running.

KELLY: Franco, dig in on some of the specifics that each of these names - Marco Rubio, Doug Burgum, Tim Scott, Elise Stefanik - what they would bring if they are the eventual pick.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. Jeongyoon mentioned loyalty and not overshadowing Trump. All those names you just mentioned fit that bill. It's also about what voters you can bring in. Tim Scott, of course, he's the only Black Republican senator. He actually just launched a nearly $15 million campaign from his own PAC to help bring in Black and brown voters in swing states.

Elise Stefanik, she's one of the few women on that list. She's also a young leader. And she's really embraced the traditional attack role of vice-presidential candidates - going after basically anyone who goes after Trump, whether it's Biden or prosecutors. Fundraising, of course, is also a big factor, and both of those candidates have also been pretty good for congressional candidates.

KELLY: And what about the other two - Rubio and Burgum?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Burgum's rich, so he helps with fundraising as well. I mean, he's a successful businessman, and therefore can relate to Trump on that business level.

Marco Rubio, he's been getting a lot of attention recently. He's bilingual. He's Hispanic. You know, he got close to Trump during his first administration, even serving as an advisor on key foreign policy issues like Latin America and China. He also has some of those traditional Republican values that could help Trump pull back some of those moderate Republicans.

And just one more name that we haven't talked about yet - J. D. Vance. He's a favorite of a lot of Trump's supporters and could be kind of a sleeper pick. He actually won this past weekend's straw poll at the Turning Point convention. He actually is perhaps the closest embodiment of the Trump movement.

KELLY: I'll up the ante and throw in one more name - Nikki Haley, who, of course, Trump vanquished in the primary. She now said she'll vote for him. Might that go anywhere?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, she was certainly an early person in the beginning. But, of course, she ran against Trump, was his rival for a long time, you know, pulled out the race. And, you know, things got pretty - you know, pretty tense between the two. So I don't anticipate that, but Trump is someone who surprises very often.

KELLY: Okey dokey. Jeongyoon, I have to ask, given Mike Pence's experience the last time around, why would these or any other contenders want the job of being Trump's vice president?

HAN: You're right. Mike Pence was probably case in point that being associated with Trump wasn't always the best option and didn't turn out well for him, clearly. And being associated with Trump more broadly wasn't always seen as a smart move. Alex Conant says, back in 2016, for example, the conventional wisdom was that Trump was going to lose, and no one wanted that kind of baggage.

CONANT: Now, it's the exact opposite of that. I think they think he's going to win, and he's only got one turn 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: So a lot of this is really about their political futures 'cause whoever becomes Trump's VP nominee will definitely secure their spot in the party for decades to come.

KELLY: Franco, last word - what is the latest that Trump is actually saying? What kind of timing are we actually looking at for this announcement?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, Trump's taking his time. I mean, he's letting the hype continue to build before he makes an official announcement, which is expected to be just before or during the Republican National Convention next month.

I mean, when it comes to specific people, like the ones we're talking about here, a senior advisor did tell me that anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will choose as VP is lying unless the person is named Donald J. Trump. That said, these names that we're discussing, all of them are working extremely hard to get Trump's attention these few weeks.

KELLY: Reporting there from two of our Washington desk colleagues. NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

KELLY: And Jeongyoon Han. Thank you.

HAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL MICHEL'S AFFAIR'S "SHADOWBOXING") 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]
Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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