In the Biden vs Trump sequel, the former president is casting for his support act

Gun Rights

“Friend,” Donald Trump wrote to supporters last week. ”Who should my VP be?” 

Having seen off his competitors and notched up a majority of delegates, the former president looks set to be crowned the 2024 Republican presidential candidate.

Now, he’s turning his attention to casting around for a running mate. 

On a rather long shortlist, which he has loosely confirmed, are an evangelical Christian, a gun-loving governor, a couple of former rivals and even a former Democrat.  

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“I’m not going to make that decision alone,” Mr Trump claimed. ”I need YOUR ADVICE FIRST!” 

As Americans face the prospect of an electoral rematch no-one wanted, there’s a growing buzz around the mystery of whom Trump will opt for. 

With Joe Biden sticking with Vice-President Kamala Harris as his running mate, the only new face in the mix will be the Republican VP pick.

So will the 45th president make another strategic choice as he bids for a second term? And who are the runners and riders in the race to be his deputy? 

For the inside lowdown, we hear from a former Trump staffer, a veteran pollster and a former rival for the 2024 nomination.

Jump to the potential vice-president to hear more about them. 

The gun-loving grandma — Kristi Noem 

Kristi Noem looks glamorous standing and waving with the NRA logo behind her

Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem is tipped as one of the former president’s top VP picks.(Reuters: Chris Bergin)

First teeth, first words, first steps — you know the things you might typically expect a proud grandma to brag about. Not Kristi Noem

“I want to reassure you she already has a shotgun, and she already has a rifle,” the South Dakota governor told a meeting of the National Rifle Association last year. 

The talk was of her two-year-old granddaughter, Addie. 

“She’s got a little pony named Sparkles too, so the girl is set up,” she said to laughter from the crowd.    

“That’s just exactly the kind of attitude that Donald Trump would like,” Republican pollster Christine Matthews said. She’s tipped Ms Noem to be one of Mr Trump’s top choices.

“I just think he likes her look. He likes her gumption.

“He’s much more a gut kind of guy, than a strategic kind of guy.

“She is kind of out of central casting. If you look at her, she’s the kind of woman that Donald Trump likes to have by his side.”

Donald Trump hugs South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem on a podium at a rally

Kristi Noem endorsed Donald Trump in September last year.(Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

The Addie anecdote “fires up the MAGA crowd”, the veteran pollster argued, but it wouldn’t help him win crucial votes in swing states. 

“That sounds good in very, very red, sort of rural South Dakota, but that does not sound good in suburban Philadelphia, suburban Atlanta,” Ms Matthews, who heads up Bellwether Research and Consulting, said.

A former congresswoman, Ms Noem was re-elected to a second term as governor in 2022. 

A vocal anti-lockdown stance during the pandemic boosted her profile on the national stage amid speculation she would run for president herself. 

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In the end she endorsed Mr Trump, telling the conservative channel Newsmax she’d consider becoming his running mate “in a heartbeat”. 

So far Ms Noem appears to have weathered controversy over claims she had a long-running extra-marital affair with a former Trump advisor, which she denies. 

The telegenic 52-year-old has a penchant for dress-up, appearing as a state trooper and a nurse in ads promoting state recruitment drives.

But her love of the camera has landed her in a spot of trouble recently over an infomercial-style video she posted promoting her dentist. 

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“It means a lot to me that something as small as your smile really can change the world … it has been a gift to be here at Smile Texas,” she says in the almost five-minute-long piece. 

A consumer advocacy group has since sued the governor over what it claims is deceptive advertising, accusing her of having an undisclosed financial relationship with the company.   

The evangelical Christian — Tim Scott 

It’s hard to embarrass Donald Trump, but South Carolina Senator Tim Scott just about managed to during the former president’s victory speech in the New Hampshire primary.

When Mr Trump suggested Senator Scott must “really hate” fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley for choosing not to endorse her, Senator Scott stepped up to the lectern to interrupt him. 

“Uh oh”, Mr Trump said, before the grinning senator declared, “I just love you”.

The moment certainly proved that Senator Scott — who abandoned his own bid to become the GOP nominee before primary season even began — is loyal to Mr Trump. 

Tim Scott yells at a lectern while Trump stands behind him frowning

US Senator Tim Scott has more than proved his loyalty to the former president.(Reuters: Elizabeth Frantz)

As an African American, he could help Republicans make inroads with Black voters, whom Mr Trump appears to be trying to win over.  

“People could look at him and say, ‘well he’s likeable, he’s reasonable, I could see him stepping in as president. He doesn’t offend me. I like the idea of racial diversity,'” Christine Matthews, the pollster, said.  

“Tim Scott actually could be more appealing to swing women voters than some of these far-right women because he has a gentle way of speaking.”

Former Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, who ran on an anti-Trump platform for the 2024 Republican nomination, said Senator Scott looked to be “in a very favourable position”.

“He certainly pairs up well with Kamala Harris, the Democratic VP candidate, so you bring a minority to the ticket,” he said.

Tim Scott holds his hand up as Trump sits next to him looking at him

Donald Trump is reportedly weighing the popularity of Tim Scott’s views on key election issues.(Reuters: Sam Wolfe)

Senator Scott is an evangelical Christian — a possible plus. But his stance on abortion could be seen as too hardline.

The former president has reportedly been gauging whether the senator’s views could turn off some voters concerned about the tightening of abortion access following the overturning of Roe v Wade. 

“I think he’s looking for someone who is maybe not ideologically moderate, but not extremely socially conservative,” said Emma Doyle, who served as a deputy chief of staff in then-president Trump’s White House.

“[Someone who is] more in alignment with his views and values than trying to fill a particular demographic.”   

The former Democrat — Tulsi Gabbard 

Tulsi Gabbard‘s political journey is hard to make sense of. 

In eight short years she’s gone from backing Bernie Sanders in 2016 to now being something of a darling of the far right. 

Tulsi Gabbard speaks at a lectern

Once a Democrat, Tulsi Gabbard later described it as “an elitist cabal”.(Reuters: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

Born in American Samoa and raised in Hawaii, the former Democratic congresswoman briefly ran for president herself in 2020 before dropping out and endorsing Joe Biden. 

Two years later she severed ties with the party, describing it as “an elitist cabal of warmongers driven by cowardly wokeness”. 

Speaking at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, she sang Donald Trump’s praises. 

“This is a man who is a fighter,” she said. 

“His strength and resilience can only come from one place… his sincere love and concern for the future of our country.” 

The charismatic 42-year-old is an army reservist who served in Iraq and Kuwait with Hawaii’s National Guard. 

If she doesn’t make it as Mr Trump’s supporting act, it’s possible some other role could be in store for her in any second administration, with reporting she’s being sounded out about defence issues. 

The former rival — Nikki Haley

Haley smiles and waves to crowds

Nikki Haley was Donald Trump’s last remaining rival.(Reuters: Evelyn Hockstein)

The former South Carolina governor held on longer than many thought possible but exited the race for the Republican nomination after winning just one state in the Super Tuesday contest. 

In her concession speech, Nikki Haley chose not to endorse Donald Trump, instead challenging the former president to earn the support of those who had backed her. 

Mr Trump’s former UN ambassador began her bid for the presidency on a platform of generational change but sharpened her attacks as the race progressed, describing Mr Trump as “chaotic” and “unhinged”. 

A woman in a pink dress sits next to former president Donald Trump. The pair are looking at each other.

Donald Trump once worked closely with Nikki Haley in her role as UN ambassador.(Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

She might seem like an unlikely choice, but perhaps a deal could be struck down the track. 

“To me, Nikki Haley is a perfect VP candidate,” Asa Hutchinson said.   

“She can appeal to women voters and she appeals to more independents, so you can broaden the appeal of the ticket.  

“That, historically, is how you view things. But I don’t believe he will do that.

“He doesn’t want people around him that are independent thinkers… he wants those that are perfectly aligned with him and pass the loyalty test.” 

The talk show host — Tucker Carlson

A man with brown hair is wearing a suit and a striped black tie. Behind him is a title screen with text on a map of the US.

Tucker Carlson is a former Fox News presenter. (AP: Richard Drew)

There’s nothing to stop Donald Trump plucking someone from outside politics. 

His frenemy Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News talk show host who recently travelled to Russia for a sit-down with President Vladimir Putin, is sometimes mentioned as a possibility.  

“I’d love to see a Tucker Carlson”, Donald Trump’s son, Don Jr, told Newsmax, fuelling the speculation. 

“I’d love to see people who are just principally in alignment as well as aggressive. You actually need a fighter.” 

Tucker Carlson laughs as he talks to Donald Trump

Tucker Carlson and the former president at a golf tournament in New Jersey. (AP: Seth Wenig)

But Asa Hutchinson dismissed the ideas of the conservative pundit joining the ticket as “fanciful”.

“He couldn’t be loyal. He couldn’t have a disciplined message,” he said.   

“But I do believe that there is some merit to consider outside of the realm of politics… [Mr Trump] could throw some curves there.”  

The tech entrepreneur — Vivek Ramaswamy  

Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is another former rival for the 2024 nomination now being talked about as a possible VP pick. 

The 38-year-old made a splash at the first Republican candidates’ debate, and clearly got under the skin of the more seasoned politicians there, including Nikki Haley, who later called him “scum”. 

Mr Ramaswamy has leaned into conspiracy theories on the January 6 Capitol attack and September 11 terrorist attacks, and frequently rails against the “deep state”. 

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy was a favourite but could be considered “too loud” for the role.(Reuters: Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo)

His positions make him popular with the MAGA crowd, and he and South Dakota’s governor Kristi Noem topped a Conservative Political Action Conference poll last month on who should be Donald Trump’s running mate. 

But Mr Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, Emma Doyle, isn’t sold.  

“I think he might be a little bit too loud for that position,” she said.  

“I think he could probably end up somewhere in the administration, but VP might not be the best fit.”  

Since dropping out of the race, Mr Ramaswamy has appeared frequently on the campaign stage with Mr Trump, sometimes alongside Tim Scott. 

Donald Trump looks at Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy has been known to entertain conspiracy theories.(Reuters: Mike Segar)

Ms Doyle said having potential running mates on the road with him is Mr Trump’s way of testing them out. 

“He does that as a way of launching a trial balloon to see what the reaction would be because he wants to pick someone people are going to like and be excited by.” 

Christine Matthews, the pollster, is also not convinced Mr Ramaswamy is likely to win through. 

“Trump’s an old alpha male. He’s an old lion. Right? And why would he want a younger version of himself on the trail with him?” she said.  

Who else is in the mix?

Marjorie yells out wearing Make America Great Again paraphernalia

Marjorie Taylor Greene heckled President Joe Biden at his State of the Union address earlier this month.(Reuters: Evelyn Hockstein)

Serial heckler Marjorie Taylor Greene is another possible pick, and she told the Guardian last year, “I know my name is on a list”. 

But while she’s unquestionably loyal to Donald Trump, the Georgia congresswoman could be a distraction. 

When she’s not heckling President Joe Biden, MTG can often be found engaging in stunts and angry exchanges in Congress. 

Donald Trump is unlikely to choose someone who would probably hog the limelight and it’s hard to imagine the MAGA firebrand taking a back seat. 

Another name thought to be under serious consideration is the New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik.  

Elise Stefanik campaigns for Trump

Elise Stefanik campaigns for Donald Trump in New Hampshire earlier this year.(Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)

When she was first elected in 2014, she was the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress. 

A former moderate, she has evolved into a vocal defender of Mr Trump who has risen rapidly through the ranks to become chair of the House Republican leadership. 

Her grilling of the heads of three prestigious universities about anti-semitism on campus in the context of the Gaza war went viral and led to the resignation of two of them. 

“She’s a killer,” Mr Trump has reportedly said of the 39-year-old. 

So what’s the strategy? 

In January, Donald Trump hinted that he had already made a decision about who his VP pick would be, but Emma Doyle isn’t convinced that’s the case. 

“I think he’s somebody who, when he’s made a decision, gets very excited about it and wants to announce it right away,” Ms Doyle said.  

What’s more likely is that he and his advisors are vetting names on the shortlist to try and uncover any skeletons in the closet or possible weaknesses. 

“The rule of having a running mate is that you get someone that does no harm, that doesn’t hurt the ticket, doesn’t create a controversy,” Asa Hutchinson said.   

“You don’t want to have the public saying this person is not prepared to be president if there’s an adverse health consequence.” 

Mr Hutchinson expects the former president will choose someone who can “handle TV well” and appeals to his MAGA base.

Christine Matthews said Donald Trump would also be guided by how much he personally liked the candidate, after being bruised by his first VP pick. 

“In 2016, when he picked Mike Pence, he did so strategically… [but] he picked somebody with whom he had no chemistry and I don’t think he wants to do that again,” she said.

This time around, with polls suggesting a close race with Joe Biden, “he needs to be strategic,” she said. 

“That doesn’t mean he will be.” 

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