The Pros, Cons and Odds for 8 Trump VP Contenders

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Former president Donald Trump, with Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), center, greets supporters in East Palestine, Ohio, in 2023.

In a little over a month, former president Donald Trump is due to make his final decision about who will appear on the 2024 ballot with him. By the mid-July Republican National Convention, he’ll have to settle on a running mate to replace former vice president Mike Pence. The pick could come sooner.

We now actually have some real hints as to whom it might be.

The Washington Post’s Marianne LeVine reports that the Trump campaign has sought documents from at least eight potential running mates. That doesn’t mean this is his final shortlist. Things can change, and that’s especially the case when the decision rests with a man as volatile as Trump. But it does suggest that these are some front-runners.

So now that we’ve got something firmer to grab hold of, let’s do a quick run-down of who these eight are and what they could – and wouldn’t – bring to the ticket.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Biggest attribute: While Rubio has never realized his potential as the onetime supposed “Republican savior,” there is a reason he earned such hype earlier in his career. He exemplifies what the party has aspired to be – relatively young, diverse, telegenic and a talented messenger who can sell the brand. Perhaps as much as anyone on this list, picking him could be an olive branch to the types of voters who wanted Nikki Haley as the 2024 nominee – and stuck by her long after she dropped out. (Haley herself appears to be off the table.)

Biggest drawback: While Trump has proven he can mend fences with people who once criticized him, he and Rubio said some really ugly things about each other in 2016. Imagine Democrats running ads featuring Trump’s running mate calling Trump a “con artist.” Also, either Trump or Rubio would have to establish residency outside of Florida, because the Constitution bars two candidates from the same state from winning that state’s electoral votes. Rubio is an incumbent senator in Florida; would Trump really move for him? It’s apparently an issue.

Betting line: A strong possibility, if they can work that out.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio)

Biggest attribute: Vance appears to be the most in line with Trump’s brand of politics – the populism, the election denialism, the baseless claims of Trump’s legal persecution, and the noninterventionist foreign policy. And he could seemingly sell that vision. While once a Trump critic, Vance literally wrote the book on what animates Trump’s base.

Biggest drawback: If Trump is looking for electoral help, it’s not clear Vance provides it. Despite winning his Senate seat in 2022, voters were far from enamored of him. He underperformed Trump’s margins in that state, and he way underperformed the other statewide Republicans who were on the ballot with him. You’d think the Trump campaign might ask why that is.

Betting line: About as strong as Rubio.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

Biggest attribute: Cotton, like Rubio, has long been thought of as the future of a more traditionally conservative Republican Party. He’s just 47, a decorated combat veteran and a longtime member of Congress with a significant foreign policy portfolio.

Biggest drawback: That foreign policy portfolio is clearly more hawkish than Trump’s. Cotton also pretty strongly condemned Trump and election denialism shortly after Jan. 6. “It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people, and repudiate mob violence,” Cotton said at the time.

Betting line: It’s tough to see how Trump looks past the Jan. 6 stuff, given how central that is to him.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

Biggest attribute: Scott might be the most pragmatic pick – a Black senator who has a good reputation with pretty much all segments of the party. And while Scott is not really a MAGA politician, Trump has expressed enthusiasm about his talents as a sidekick. “I thought Tim Scott didn’t run as good of a race as he’s capable of running for himself, but as a surrogate for me, he’s unbelievable,” Trump has said.

Biggest drawback: While perhaps the biggest do-no-harm pick, Scott did not acquit himself well as a 2024 candidate in his own right, gaining little traction. The stage seemed a lot bigger than he was. Maybe that matters less as a running mate, but Trump seems to be conscious of it.

Betting line: On Rubio’s and Vance’s level.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum

Biggest attribute: Trump and Burgum appear to have great chemistry, as LeVine reports. Even as Trump has called Vance and Rubio “great,” he called Burgum “incredible.” Burgum also has enormous personal wealth – he spent $28,000 of his own money per vote on his 2024 campaign – and the ability to connect Trump with his rich allies.

Biggest drawback: Burgum is surely the most boring and unremarkable candidate on this list. It’s pretty much the opposite of an exciting pick, and Trump is someone who values stage presence and charisma (as long as he doesn’t get upstaged).

Betting line: The most compelling sleeper pick, but still a sleeper pick. He makes a lot more sense for a Cabinet role.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

Biggest attribute: Stefanik could be the leading option if Trump wants to pick a female running mate – given how things have turned out with Haley and how Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake’s stock has fallen. (Former Trump White House spokeswoman and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has also been mentioned.) She’s also young (39) and a member of House GOP leadership who could serve as a bridge between Trump and Congress.

Biggest drawback: While many on this list have evolved on Trump, Stefanik has undergone a personal transformation that makes her virtually unrecognizable compared with when she first came into Congress as a relatively moderate, establishment Republican not long ago. She says all the right, pro-Trump things these days. But you have to wonder whether Trump might worry that she could turn out to be another Pence.

Betting line: A bit more than a sleeper pick.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.)

Biggest attribute: Donalds, like Scott, could help Trump appeal to Black voters, who are flirting with voting for the GOP presidential nominee as never before in modern presidential politics. He’s also someone with appeal that stretches from establishment Republicans to House Freedom Caucus types, as evidenced by the (limited) support he got to become House speaker.

Biggest drawback: He’s the most inexperienced candidate on this list, having served just four years in the Florida Capitol and less than four years in the U.S. House – not even statewide office. He also has past legal problems from when he was a young adult, including a drug-possession charge and a bribery charge. He took part in a diversion program for the first and had the latter expunged. And then there is, of course, the same Florida residency problem as exists with Rubio.

Betting line: While perhaps an unthinkable pick for a candidate not named Trump, a Donald-Donalds ticket checks some boxes and shouldn’t be totally discounted.

Former housing and urban development secretary Ben Carson

Biggest attribute: He and Trump have been simpatico for a very long time, after some brief skirmishes during the 2016 campaign. Trump could view him as someone with potentially unmatched appeal to evangelical and Black voters, given his personal story of rising to become a famous neurosurgeon.

Biggest drawback: Carson has been relatively quiet for a long time, and his tenure in Trump’s Cabinet was unremarkable. He got some traction while running for president in 2016, but his sleepy style isn’t really in line with Trump and might not play as well on a bigger national stage.

Betting line: I’m pretty skeptical about this one.