The running mate reality show returns, updated for 2024 with election skepticism

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It’s easy to compare former President Donald Trump’s search for a running mate to his old TV show, “The Apprentice,” in which would-be businesspeople contestants hoped to hear him say, “You’re hired!”

But considering how the winner of Trump’s last vice presidential search ultimately had to flee the Capitol when a mob of angry Trump supporters roamed the halls with chants of “Hang Mike Pence,” the reality show construction feels very off.

Throw in the gory side story of how one potential VP pick, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, may be out of the running due to her description in a forthcoming memoir of shooting her unruly dog and a “demon” goat, and this year’s running mate search is off to a strange start.

Who is Trump considering?

Trump seems to be enjoying the veepstakes as a weekend diversion from his ongoing criminal trial in New York.

He called potential running mates onstage with him at a high-dollar joint fundraiser for his campaign and the Republican National Committee at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday. On Sunday, a number of rumored contestants conducted a series of media interviews from Florida, including House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Burgum and Scott, who failed to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination with their own lackluster presidential campaigns this year, each moved adjacent to election denialism as they joined other supplicants in saying things that might impress Trump.

Burgum told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that CNN disputed the 2016 election – which is a complete falsehood. Here’s CNN’s 2016 election map. Trump won that election.

During his presidential campaign, Burgum said he wanted to push for new ideas, but during the Tapper interview, he was pushing old, unproven conspiracy theories about mail-in voting.

Separately, there was an awkward moment on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when Scott repeatedly refused to commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election regardless of who wins. Election skepticism is new for Scott, who did not dispute the outcome of the 2020 election.

Rubio was asked on Fox News if he would leave his home state, where he is a senator, to satisfy a quirk of the 12th Amendment that prohibits presidential electors from voting for both a president and vice president from their state. Rubio did not say no.

Rubio has turned hard from warning against Trump in 2016 and referring to the future president as a “con artist” when both men were running for the Republican nomination to being a Trump supporter.

Read more about the weekend audition from CNN’s Kit Maher and Greg Clary.

What does Trump want in a running mate?

CNN has reported that Noem is off the shortlist and not currently under consideration, something she addressed Monday.

“I think that the media has turned on me. And I understand that. I think that that’s the part of being honest and being genuine,” Noem said on “CBS Mornings.”

“The American people want somebody who’s real and doesn’t pretend to be something that they’re not. I’ve never once said that I’m perfect.”

Trump, who will ultimately choose his running mate, seems to prize loyalty over everything else.

Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio is another potential running mate. His metamorphosis from Trump-opposing pundit in 2016 to Trump-backer in 2024 was apparent during an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins last week, when she asked him if the way Trump treated Pence gives Vance any pause about wanting to be vice president.

“I’m extremely skeptical that Mike Pence’s life was ever in danger,” Vance said.

Pence has said otherwise and is clearly not in the running to be on Trump’s ticket this time. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has yet to endorse Trump, is also not in the mix, according to CNN’s reporting.

How did Trump pick last time?

In 2016, CNN reported that Trump was actually leaning toward picking former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had run for president that year. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also on a three-person shortlist.

Trump was swayed by advisers to pick Pence, a more conservative choice at the time. Pence spent the next four years as a loyal lieutenant before standing up to Trump and refusing to help overturn the 2020 election results.

The Christie pick might have aged even worse than Pence; while both men ran against Trump in the primary this cycle, Christie has been a committed Trump opponent since the fallout of January 6, 2021, and framed his campaign as an effort to stop Trump.

Looking back at other presidential campaigns, there are multiple examples of regretful picks. The late Sen. John McCain of Arizona regretted his last-minute decision to pick then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008. She shook up the campaign, as desired, but also committed multiple gaffes.

The most famous running mate fiasco may be the selection of Sen. Thomas Eagleton to be George McGovern’s Democratic running mate in 1972. Eagleton did not disclose his multiple hospitalizations for mental health problems to McGovern’s campaign. Eagleton ultimately withdrew from the race and Democrats hastily opted for Sargent Shriver.

McGovern lost in a landslide to then-President Richard Nixon and his vice president, Spiro Agnew. They won reelection, but Agnew may go down as among the worst vice presidents since he was forced to resign when the Department of Justice accused him of taking bribes, including during his time as vice president.

Running mates in recent campaigns often go through an intense vetting process.

When will Trump make a decision?

Recent history suggests Trump’s running mate will be picked over the summer, close to the Republican National Convention that will be held in Milwaukee from July 15 to 18.

Trump picked Pence on July 15 in 2016, announcing the decision in a tweet. Hillary Clinton announced her selection of Sen. Tim Kaine a week later, also by tweet, on July 22.

Joe Biden announced his selection of Kamala Harris in an August 11, 2020, email to supporters.

Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012, announced his pick of then-Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin on August 11.

In 2008, the picks came later. Barack Obama announced Biden as his pick in a text message to supporters on August 23. The Republican nominee that year, McCain, announced his pick of Palin on August 29.

These selections usually come a few days or a week before the party’s national convention, but there are instances, such as Democrats in 2004 and Republicans in 2012, when the pick comes two weeks before the convention.

Selecting a running mate would historically occur at the convention, although that has not happened since 1988, according to 538.

What about Biden and Harris?

Although it is not unprecedented in US history for a president to change running mates, it hasn’t happened in a good long while.

Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president four times and had three vice presidents. The first, John Nance Garner, left Roosevelt’s ticket after two terms, frustrated with Roosevelt’s attempt to change the makeup of the Supreme Court and refusal to pare back elements of the New Deal. He actually challenged Roosevelt in some primaries in 1940.

Roosevelt’s second vice president, Henry Wallace, was dropped by delegates at the convention in 1944 in favor of Harry Truman.

All indications are that Biden plans to keep Harris, the first woman to be elected in a nationwide election.

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