Trump Auditions VP Picks Before Wealthy Donors in Palm Beach

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(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump is sharpening his focus on a possible running mate by taking a page from his days hosting reality show “The Apprentice” and parading the top contenders for the slot in front of rich benefactors this weekend.

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Contestants jockeyed for a job with his business empire for over a decade on the NBC show, with Trump pitting them against each other for his favor. An exclusive donor retreat at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach this week promises a similar vibe — drawing hundreds of deep-pocketed GOP backers as well as allies eyeing the No. 2 spot on the Republican presidential ticket.

The spectacle comes as Trump is narrowing his gaze on a handful of potential running mates: Ohio Senator JD Vance, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, according to people familiar with the deliberations as recently as this week.

Trump is saddled with legal woes. His running mate could be a crucial surrogate on the campaign trail, helping broaden his appeal with independents, women and minority voters, while also helping tap wealthy donors as he trails President Joe Biden by nearly $100 million.

Scott, Rubio and Vance all offer valuable experience raising money for Senate campaigns. Burgum, who sold his software company to Microsoft Corp. for $1.1 billion in 2001, has contacts in tech and energy sectors that could also help him woo wealthy donors.

Trump has publicly praised all four candidates recently, but Trump and Rubio have a history of trading barbs. During the 2016 Republican primary, Trump dubbed the Florida Senator “Little Marco,” and Rubio called Trump “the most vulgar person.” On Wednesday, Trump called Rubio “great” and “one of the people I respect.”

“Anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying, unless the person is named Donald J. Trump,” Trump senior advisor Brian Hughes said.

Game-Time Decision

The former president – known for his loyalty tests and challenges that mirror some plot-lines from The Apprentice – has repeatedly emphasized that he has yet to decide on his running mate and will announce closer to the Republican National Convention, which begins July 15 in Milwaukee.

“We’ll be making that decision I think closer to Wisconsin time,” Trump said in an interview Wednesday with a Michigan television station. “It’s very early right now.”

The campaign is vetting lots of candidates, but Trump has yet to commit his full attention to the formal process or hold official one-on-one meetings with the VP contenders, people familiar with the process said.

Last month, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed in a post on X that Trump “emissaries” reached out to him about possibly being Trump’s running mate. Ben Carson, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, is seen as a safe choice for Trump among those in his orbit, the people familiar said.

Guest List

The weekend donor retreat gives Trump an opportunity to test-run his top tier of candidates — Burgum, Scott, Vance and Rubio — all of whom are slated to attend. Representatives for those individuals did not immediately respond to requests to comment or declined to comment.

Other potential VP candidates, including South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Representatives Elise Stefanik of New York and Byron Donalds of Florida, are also listed on an invitation for the event.

Donors planning to attend include Scott Bessent of Key Square Group, who has been floated as a potential Treasury secretary nominee, and private equity investor Tommy Hicks Jr., Red Apple Group founder John Catsimatidis, former Intrepid Museum chief executive officer Bill White and his husband Bryan Eure of Willis Towers Watson will also have ringside seats, giving Trump to see how potential running mates are received by the GOP’s money elite.

The backdrop for the three-day donor event at The Four Seasons in Palm Beach is a stark contrast to Trump’s week, mostly spent in a New York City courtroom where he was fined for violating a gag order for criticizing key witnesses and warned that future breaches could result in jail time. Trump is in the middle of a multi-week criminal trial dealing with the falsification of business records to obfuscate hush money paid to an adult film actress. He also faces three other criminal indictments.

The Four Seasons will be locked down for the duration of the event to keep journalists and other unauthorized visitors out of the beach-front complex, according to a person familiar with the planning.

The schedule includes a Senate panel featuring Scott, Rubio, and other senators on Friday, according to a person familiar with the planning. House members will also host a reception that same evening, while Noem and Burgum will appear at a breakfast on Saturday, the person said. Trump himself will speak at a lunch that will be held at his Mar-A-Lago club, four miles away from the Four Seasons property. One topic that will be a key focus of discussion: election integrity.

Other notable Republicans slated to attend include US Representatives Jim Banks and Wesley Hunt, Senators Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. US Senate candidates, Dave McCormick, who is running in Pennsylvania, and Bernie Moreno, who is seeking to flip an Ohio Senate seat, are also scheduled to be there.

Running Mate Material

Trump’s running mate may have to take on an unusually large amount of campaigning if the former president’s legal troubles prevent him from maintaining a robust travel schedule. Trump’s current trial is expected to wrap up in June and trial dates for the other three indictments have not yet been scheduled and could stretch out past the election.

Douglas Heye, a Republican operative, said a strategically selected running mate could give Trump the bump he needs to win in what is expected to be a close race in November.

“Just as Mike Pence helped Trump with evangelicals, the right pick can help Trump make inroads with communities he is targeting,” Heye said. “Peeling off a few percentage points could have a big impact in key states.”

--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs and Gregory Korte.

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