GOP vice presidential hopefuls look for Trump’s golden ticket

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Former President Trump may be handing a golden ticket to whomever he picks as his running mate for November, and the Republicans jockeying for his favor know it.

If Trump wins a second term, his running mate could be best positioned to be the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2028.

Instead of the usual eight-year wait a vice presidential pick would face, Trump’s selection this time would become an overnight favorite to be the GOP nominee in four years.

“To the extent that whoever he picks as vice president could be the presumptive front-runner four years from now, it’s a bigger deal than normal,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.

The vice presidential pick could also be seen as the heir apparent for the MAGA movement, which has all but completely taken over the GOP under Trump.

Allies to the ex-president and Republican strategists say Trump is not focused on setting up an heir apparent. He’s instead looking for a vice presidential candidate who will be loyal — perhaps the most important factor to Trump in picking any help — and someone who will help him win defeat President Biden in November.

But everyone involved in the jockeying knows the special importance of this year’s decision.

“We’re seeing a lot of younger Republicans clamoring for the role because they see this as not only being as vice president but as positioning for 2028,” Conant said.

One of the Republicans who is on Trump’s radar as a potential running mate is Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who pursued an unsuccessful White House bid before suspending it last November and becoming a prominent surrogate for the former president.

Scott, who is 58 and the lone Black Republican in the Senate, long has been considered by GOP strategists as a candidate for higher office in part because of his strong fundraising numbers and compelling personal story.

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), another staunch Trump ally who has been the subject of VP speculation, is only 39 and is considered a potential future face of the party. Vance told Fox News earlier this month he has not spoken to Trump about the possibility of joining the ticket, but he would help “however I can.”

Other candidates who have emerged and been spoken about as future faces of the party include Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who is 45; Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), 39; Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), 41; and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), 51.

Strategists and Republican insiders were careful to downplay how much influencing the 2028 race will factor into Trump’s decision this year.

“Trump will prioritize loyalty over votes. His team may be thinking about 2028, but his pick in 2024 will be about who best reflects on him,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor who initially backed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) but has since urged the party to unite behind Trump.

“A lot of people close to Trump are saying that he’ll choose someone who will help him govern, but I am not convinced it’s any more strategic than loyalty,” Eberhart added. “There are a lot of people with opinions about who Trump should choose as VP, but the ultimate decider is going to be Trump. And his top priority is how that person reflects on Trump.”

Trump and his team have largely kept the details of his vice presidential search under wraps, aside from the former president periodically disclosing someone is on his growing “short list” of candidates.

The former president is likely to wait to announce his selection until closer to the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to begin July 15.

Then-candidate Trump did not announce Mike Pence as his running mate in 2016 until mid-July, just days before the convention.

One Trump ally said the former president is a “master at stagecraft” who is likely to use the intrigue around his pick of running mate to his advantage for as long as possible.

The Trump ally pointed to the frequent fundraising emails the Trump campaign sends out teasing a VP selection to draw in donors and to the media coverage generated each time Trump names a possible candidate.

I think he’s going to use this to his full advantage,” the Trump ally told The Hill. “And the best use of it is to make it, as of right now, closer to the convention and keep people on their toes for as long as possible.”

The parlor game around who Trump will pick as his running mate — and how it might affect the hierarchy of Republican politics in the years to come — is somewhat reminiscent of the 2020 Democratic cycle when then-candidate Joe Biden spoke about being a bridge candidate to the next generation of leaders.

At the time, it seemed uncertain whether Biden would run for a second term, and his pick as vice president, Kamala Harris, was seen as a potential candidate as soon as 2024.

Instead, Biden decided to run again, and Harris’s polling numbers have faltered a bit, leaving some Democrats uncertain about her strength as a presidential contender.

Still, there’s little doubt Harris will be a candidate in 2028, no matter what happens in November.

The situation for Republicans scrambling to be Trump’s pick is different in that they would certainly become favorites to be the GOP presidential nominee in four years if Trump wins in November.

Yet the prospective running mates may also want to approach the future with some trepidation. Pence’s relationship with Trump fell apart in the waning days of the Trump presidency, when the GOP vice president would not back Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

Pence’s break with Trump ultimately cost him in the GOP primary, when he found himself running against his former boss.

Those fighting to be the second banana on this year’s GOP ticket will be hoping for a much better fate.

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