Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Top 5 This Week

The Ultimate Guide to Donald Trump’s Vice Presidential Candidates

Trump's Veepstakes: Risky Polarizing Picks vs. Establishment Candidates

donald trump vice president
Photo: Right Cheer

As Donald Trump weighs his options for a potential running mate with the 2024 election quickly approaching, a diverse array of names have surfaced as possible vice presidential candidates. The former president is expected to heavily prioritize loyalty and an embrace of his “America First” populist ideology over more traditional considerations like government experience or geographic balance. 

While assembling a unified Republican ticket will be critical, Trump’s VP selection also carries major governing implications should they assume the presidency. With that in mind, the former president will have to weigh the potential political benefits for each candidate against any glaring deficits or controversies that could hurt the ticket.

The decision is not without serious risks for Trump. An unconventional, deeply polarizing pick could galvanize opposition and repel moderate voters. But tapping an establishment Republican could fail to generate enthusiasm among his devoted following. The following list offers insights into the strategic calculations at play, along with grades for each potential candidate. 

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene 

Marjorie Taylor Greene
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Greene is a second-term Congresswoman representing Georgia’s 14th district. Prior to her election in 2020, she had no political experience and embraced far-right conspiracy theories like QAnon. Greene has established herself as one of the most controversial figures in Congress, known for her incendiary rhetoric and embrace of extremist rhetoric. 

Pros

  • Her combative style and promotion of outrageous conspiracy theories have made her a celebrated figure among Trump’s most ardent supporters.
  • As a woman, Greene could potentially attract some female voters drawn to her anti-establishment brand. 
  • Her uncompromising allegiance to Trump and willingness to amplify his stolen election rhetoric resonate with the MAGA base.

Cons

  • Greene’s long history of racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments would likely repel moderate voters.
  • Her promotion of unhinged conspiracy theories like QAnon, Jewish space lasers, and Pizzagate undermine her credibility.
  • Her disruptive behavior and endorsement of political violence make her a polarizing, high-risk choice.

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • Marjorie Taylor Greene is a profound threat to democratic norms and institutions.
  • Greene has demonstrated a willingness to incite and defend political violence against her perceived enemies.
  • She has repeatedly endorsed the racist “great replacement” theory and spread blatant disinformation.

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: F-

MTG’s profound deficits as a national candidate cannot be overstated. Her long track record of embracing unhinged conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, and political violence should have disqualified her from serving in Congress, let alone being a heartbeat away from the presidency. Her very presence on the ticket would be something our founding fathers would be ashamed of.

Ohio Senator J.D. Vance 

J.D. Vance Trump Vice President
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: J.D. Vance is a venture capitalist and an author who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio in 2022. Vance studied at Ohio State University before serving in the Iraq War. He later attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2013. Vance gained national attention after releasing his popular memoir “Hillbilly Elegy”. He was initially critical of Trump, publicly describing him as a “dangerous creep”, an “idiot” and a “moral disaster” until it became advantageous for his political ambitions to support the former president. 

Pros 

  • Taps into the anti-elite, anti-immigrant populist sentiments of the Republican base with his rhetoric. 
  • Could boost Trump’s support among blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt, capitalizing on his “Hillbilly Elegy” credentials. 
  • At 38, represents a younger generation of Republican politicians.

Cons 

  • Has been accused of hypocrisy because of the stark contrast between his public posturing as a champion for the working class and his background as a wealthy Yale-educated venture capitalist.
  • Vance’s past criticisms of Trump could be perceived as a lack of unwavering loyalty. 
  • Limited political experience beyond his current Senate term. 

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • Despite once decrying divorce and irresponsibility in his book, Vance has chosen to endorse and defend Trump’s questionable ethical conduct and infidelity.
  • Has endorsed and amplified Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election being “rigged,” undermining democracy.

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: B+

In Trump’s eyes, Vance has redeemed himself through his vigorous defenses of the former president and embrace of populist conservatism. His educational background could lend an air of credibility, while his hardline immigration stance would energize the MAGA base. However, Vance’s past criticisms and moral equivocations may give Trump pause about his unflinching loyalty. On the electoral front, Vance could alienate moderate suburban voters put off by his cynical ideological pivot and promotion of anti-democratic narratives.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem

Kristi Noem
Kristi Noem at Turning Point USA event in 2020, photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Kristi Noem is the current governor of South Dakota, first elected in 2018. Prior to becoming governor, she served as a U.S. Representative for South Dakota’s at-large congressional district from 2011 to 2019. Noem has portrayed herself as a crusading conservative warrior, taking controversial stances against COVID-19 restrictions and protecting the Keystone XL pipeline project. Her recent memoir release has sparked significant controversy and accusations of embellishment, which have severely damaged her prospects of being selected as Trump’s running mate

Pros 

  • Her rural roots and image as a rancher could amplify Trump’s appeal with his base of non-college educated white voters.
  • Her combative style and willingness to embrace culture war controversies align with Trump’s confrontational approach.

Cons 

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • She killed a puppy for no reason, not exactly someone you’d want so close to the presidency. 
  • Her rejection of COVID mitigation measures needlessly put lives at risk during the pandemic.

Overall Strategic Value/Viability : F

While Kristi Noem’s rural bona fides and willingness to wage culture wars could energize Trump’s base, her considerable personal baggage and lack of credibility ultimately make her an untenable choice as running mate. Most disqualifying is the appalling revelation in her memoir about executing a 14-month-old puppy, which she bizarrely boasts about as some sort of test of grit and leadership. Such an act of cruelty against a defenseless animal is not only disturbing from an ethical standpoint, but raises serious questions about Noem’s judgment, emotional stability, and basic human decency.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton 

Tom Cotton Trump VP
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Tom Cotton is a U.S. Senator from Arkansas, currently serving his second term after being first elected in 2014. Prior to serving in the Senate, Cotton had a distinguished military career, serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan after graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. In the Senate, Cotton has carved out a reputation as a staunch conservative. He serves on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

Pros 

  • As a military veteran with combat experience, Cotton could bolster Trump’s national security credentials and appeal to more traditional Republican voters.
  • Recently Trump has unexpectedly elevated Cotton to be a top contender for VP, signaling he values Cotton’s experience and ability to run a disciplined campaign.

Cons 

  • Cotton voted to certify the 2020 election results, which angered Trump’s base.
  • His hawkish foreign policy views clashes with Trump’s isolationism. 
  • Trump has been trying to get voters to forget that he’s responsible for the abortion bans around the country, and Cotton has endorsed a national 20-week abortion ban. 

Why They’re Bad For the Country

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: C

While Tom Cotton checks several boxes for Trump in terms of loyalty and ideological alignment, his relatively low national profile and lack of the bombastic persona Trump often prefers in allies could make him an underwhelming choice from Trump’s perspective. However, Cotton’s military experience and strong conservative background could make him an attractive option for shoring up support among traditional Republican voters who may have soured on Trump’s antics.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott 

Tim Scott Trump VP
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Tim Scott is the junior U.S. Senator from South Carolina, first appointed by Nikki Haley in 2013 to fill a vacancy and then elected in his own right in 2014. He is the first Black Republican Senator elected from the South since the late 1800s. Prior to joining the Senate, Scott served in the U.S. House representing South Carolina’s 1st congressional district from 2011 to 2013. He has positioned himself as a conservative yet pragmatic voice within the Republican Party.

Pros 

  • As the only Black Republican in the Senate, Scott might help broaden the Trump’s appeal with Black and minority voters, a major weakness for him. 
  • His upbeat personality and inspirational personal story could present a more palatable public face for Trumpism.
  • Scott has been a reliable ally, voting to acquit Trump in both impeachment trials and has supported Trump’s election denialism.

Cons 

  • Scott voted to certify Biden’s 2020 election win and said Mike Pence did the right thing on January 6, which is a mark against him in Trump’s eyes. 
  • Choosing Scott could be controversial with the white nationalist factions that have latched onto Trumpism.  

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • While stopping short of fully embracing the “Big Lie”, Scott’s indulgence of election denialism is dangerous. 
  • Scott’s groveling for Trump after he dropped out of the race was embarrassing at best. 

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: B+

For Trump, Tim Scott represents a double-edged sword as a running mate. On one hand, Scott checks important representational boxes as a moderate Black conservative who could help detoxify the MAGA brand’s reputation for racism and divisiveness. His upbeat demeanor and personal backstory of persevering against poverty could make him a better messenger for Trumpism than the former president himself. However, Scott’s occasional breaks with Trump and more centrist policy positioning may not sit well with the MAGA faithful seeking uncompromising fealty.

New York Representative Elise Stefanik 

Elise Stefanik Trump Veep
Photo: Stuart Isett/Fortune Magazine

Background and Experience: Stefanik is a five-term Congresswoman from New York’s 21st district. Stefanik was initially elected to Congress in 2014 as a moderate Republican, previously working in the Bush administration and aligning with more traditional conservative values. However, she underwent a stark ideological shift around 2018, transforming into an ardent Trump supporter and embracing his “Make America Great Again” platform. 

Pros

  • As a woman, Stefanik could attract some female voters disillusioned by the damage Trump has done to women’s rights.
  • Her fierce loyalty and willingness to propagate misinformation resonates with the segment of the Republican base that has fully bought into Trump’s rhetoric.

Cons

  • Formerly criticized Trump before her dramatic ideological shift.
  • Stefanik’s radical transformation from moderate to MAGA insurgent has been criticized as shamelessly opportunistic.
  • Her association with fringe conspiracy theories like the racist “great replacement” theory could further alienate suburban voters already turned off by Trump’s brand. 

Why They’re Bad For the Country

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: B

Elise Stefanik represents a solid candidate for the Trump team, hitting all the right notes as a loyal MAGA foot soldier. She’s also a woman, which could help Trump with a voting bloc that has been increasingly hostile towards him ever since Roe was overturned because of his actions. But Stefanik’s extreme views and rejection of democratic norms could turn off moderate/suburban Republican voters, making her a flawed Veep candidate.

Florida Representative Byron Donalds 

Byron Donalds Trump VP
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Byron Donalds is a two-term Congressman from Florida’s 19th district. One of only five Black Republicans in Congress, Donalds first gained prominence in 2020 when he flipped a Democratic-held seat after serving in the Florida House of Representatives since 2016. He has aligned himself closely with the Trump wing of the GOP, voting against certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory, and is a member of the Freedom Caucus. However, Donalds has tried to cultivate a more restrained personal image compared to many of his MAGA colleagues.

Pros 

  • As a relatively young Black conservative, Donalds could boost Trump’s appeal among minority voters.
  • His loyalty in pushing Trump’s false claims about a “stolen” election resonates with the MAGA base that has embraced conspiracy theories about electoral fraud. 

Cons 

  • Donalds has prior legal issues stemming from incidents in his youth that could be seized upon by opponents, including bribery and drug distribution charges.
  • His lack of widespread name recognition beyond his Florida district and his limited experience on the national stage is a potential liability.

Why They’re Bad For the Country

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: C+

For Trump, tapping Byron Donalds as his running mate would be a calculated gambit to polish his brand’s tarnished reputation on race. As a Black conservative, Donalds would provide Trump with a degree of insulation against charges of racism and xenophobia that have plagued his movement. However, Donalds’ relative inexperience and lack of widespread name recognition undercut potential benefits. Donalds is a rising star in the Republican Party but may not be ready for what is shaping up to be a brutal campaign.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio 

Marco Rubio Trump VP
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Marco Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida, serving since 2011. He previously served as the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 to 2008. Rubio initially positioned himself as an establishment Republican but has undergone an ideological shift during his political career. He was part of the Republican establishment that did everything they could to stop Trump from taking over the party, but eventually pivoted to become an ally of Donald Trump following the 2016 presidential election—despite Trump previously mocking him with the moniker “Little Marco.” 

Pros 

  • As an experienced national figure who ran for president in 2016, Rubio brings widespread name recognition that could lend credibility to Trump’s ticket in the eyes of moderate Republican voters.
  • As a Hispanic senator from a key swing state like Florida, Rubio could potentially boost Trump’s appeal with Latino voters, a demographic he has struggled with.

Cons 

  • As a member of the Republican establishment, Rubio’s addition may not generate much enthusiasm among Trump’s hardcore MAGA supporters.
  • Rubio’s past bitter feuding with Trump, including vicious personal attacks in which Trump dubbed him “Little Marco,” could undermine the perceived authenticity of their current alliance. 

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • Earns a 0/100 rating from the Human Rights Campaign for his opposition to LGBTQ+ rights like same-sex marriage.
  • Supports restricting abortion rights and rolling back reproductive freedoms. 

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: B

Marco Rubio could represent a relatively safe vice presidential pick for Trump in the sense that he is a known commodity with governing experience who could plausibly take over as president. His Hispanic background could boost Trump’s appeal with an important voting bloc. However, Rubio’s establishment ties and failure to fully embrace Trump’s most extreme rhetoric could dampen enthusiasm among the MAGA faithful. At the same time, picking him could go a long way with traditional Republicans who are still wary of Trump’s populism.

Former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley 

Nikki Haley Trump Vice President
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Nikki Haley is a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 2017 to 2018 under President Trump. Prior to that, she was the governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, becoming the state’s first female and Indian American governor. Haley has portrayed herself as a conservative reformer focused on government accountability and fiscal restraint. Even after dropping out of the 2024 presidential primaries, Haley has continued to receive protest votes from Republicans dissatisfied with Trump, signaling she still has goodwill with the anti-Trump wing of the party.

Pros 

  • As a woman of Indian descent, Haley could boost Trump’s appeal with female and minority voters who rejected him in 2020.
  • Haley has maintained a separate identity and brand from Trump within the GOP, allowing her to potentially appeal to the segment of Republican voters who still have reservations about Trump.
  • Her strong communication skills, honed through tough campaigns like her 2010 gubernatorial race in South Carolina, could make Haley a potent asset for taking the fight to Biden on the debate stage and campaign trail.

Cons 

  • While she recently endorsed him, Haley has rebuked Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and behavior as president on many occasions. 
  • Her shifting stances and alliances, first criticizing Trump then supporting him, could open her up to charges of opportunism and lack of core principles.

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • Holds extreme anti-abortion views and worked to restrict reproductive rights as governor of South Carolina.
  • Enabled Trump’s norm-breaking behavior by endorsing him after criticizing his conduct throughout the primary campaign.

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: A

Of the prospective VP candidates, Nikki Haley likely represents Trump’s best option from a general election viability standpoint. The former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador brings a blend of executive experience and foreign policy credentials that could bolster the ticket’s credibility. However, her forceful denunciations of Trump during the 2024 primary contests—going further than any other candidate except Chris Christie—may prove difficult for the famously vindictive former president to overlook. Trump’s well-documented resistance to criticism could override strategic considerations and lead him to pass over Haley, despite the fact that she’s likely the best candidate for the job. 

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy 

Vivek Ramaswamy Trump VP
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Background and Experience: Vivek Ramaswamy is an entrepreneur who founded Roivant Sciences—a billion dollar biotechnology company—and Strive Asset Management, a so-called “anti-woke” asset management firm. Ramaswamy has positioned himself as a critic of what he calls “woke capitalism” and the influence of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles on business decisions. Despite lacking traditional political experience, Ramaswamy gained traction as a Republican presidential candidate by aligning himself with populist conservative values and railing against “woke” ideology.

Pros 

  • As an Indian American entrepreneur, Ramaswamy could appeal to minority and business-oriented voters.
  • His outspoken criticism of woke corporate culture resonates with the MAGA base’s opposition to progressive social values and equality.

Cons 

  • Ramaswamy’s lack of political experience could be a liability, especially when facing scrutiny on complex policy issues.
  • His caustic personality and aggressive debate performances drew backlash even from fellow Republicans. 

Why They’re Bad For the Country

  • Promotes divisive rhetoric and conspiracy theories surrounding issues like election integrity and COVID-19 response.
  • Advocates for abolishing key institutions like the FBI, which could dangerously undermine law and order.
  • Wants to end birthright citizenship even though both of his parents are immigrants. 

Overall Strategic Value/Viability: D+

For Trump, tapping Vivek Ramaswamy as his running mate is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. While Vivek Ramaswamy could energize portions of Trump’s base with his anti-woke messaging, his lack of experience and extreme positions on key issues ultimately limit his viability on a national ticket. However, Ramaswamy’s Indian-American background and past business success could potentially expand Trump’s coalition in some demographics.