Picking the right running mate could powerfully boost Trump’s prospects

Aug 11, 2023, 11:45 AM | Updated: 11:59 am


The person former President Donald Trump picks as a running mate could change the direction of the campaign. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

It’s impossible to forecast who Donald Trump will pick as his running mate for the upcoming election of 2024, but it’s safe to say who he won’t select with a fair degree of certainty.

No, there won’t be a repeat of the tickets of 2016 and 2020, so any yard signs and bumper stickers reading TRUMP-PENCE ’24 will have value as oddball collectors’ items only.

The former president’s most committed supporters accuse Pence of disloyalty (or much worse) and boo him at conservative conferences, unable to forgive his prominent role in blocking The Chief’s elaborate plans to overturn the election results after the votes were counted.

The idea of the “stolen election” has become such a sacred element of the Trumpian faith that it’s impossible to imagine that the MAGA minions, let alone the former president himself, would accept anyone who disputes the accusations of massive, game-changing fraud as his ticket mate.

More from Medved: Can a new Trump victimhood campaign win back the White House?

Sure, Trump will continue arguing about the evidence of Democratic cheating through the course of the new election, but he won’t want to pursue these battles with the Republican nominee for vice president.

A Trump – DeSantis ticket not likely

Similarly unlikely — and contradictory to the Constitution — is the stubbornly popular notion that Trump and Ron DeSantis, his most publicized rival, will give up the insults that have increasingly characterized their toxic relationship and decide to run together for the sake of party unity. This utopian scheme directly contradicts the wording of the Twelfth Amendment, which begins: “The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.”

In other words, a ticket comprised of two Floridians would automatically forfeit all thirty of Florida’s electoral votes — a suicidal, self-inflicted blow that would make no sense whatever in the likely event of another close election.

In fact, the polling indicates that a battle between Trump and Biden would be tight enough that the choice of a new Republican running mate could make a decisive difference in the outcome. The GOP enjoys a “fresh face” option that the Democrats don’t; barring some dire episode of illness or physical breakdown, Dems will nominate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris once again. Despite her unpopularity (which rivals Biden’s own), White House strategists can’t conceivably replace the first-ever woman-of-color Vice President without risking grave offense to two constituencies (blacks and females) absolutely essential to Democratic success.

With big majorities of every segment of the electorate expressing their preference for something new and different in place of a tired rematch of the same teams from last time, only the Republicans can satisfy that yearning by adding at least one novel personality to their national ticket.

For obvious reasons, it makes sense that this new face should, if possible, be female — since Trump painfully under-performed with women voters in his prior presidential runs.  2016 saw Hillary Clinton crushing him among females by 11 points, and four years later Biden achieved an even more lopsided advantage with 57% of women to Trump’s 42%.

Nikki Haley is one possible running mate

The most prominent female figure in Republican presidential politics, Nikki Haley, has frequently been mentioned as a vice presidential possibility, though she explicitly insists she’s not interested in becoming anyone’s number two.  She also faces a problem with her unequivocal promise that she’d support Trump for president again if he decided to seek another term and would give up any thought of launching a competing campaign of her own.

Trump and his allies have reminded her (and the public) of this broken pledge, and whether or not her own campaign eventually generates competitive momentum as one of Trump’s rivals, it won’t help her secure a place as the Big Guy’s number two. If she stays in the single-digit doldrums as a campaign irrelevancy, Team Trump would question the idea that she could bring massive new support to his ticket. But if she does challenge him seriously (especially in the debates), it hardly comports with the dutiful subservience the candidate would presumably prefer as his designated replacement.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kari Lake, and Lauren Boebert among the contenders

Other women with closer connections to the MAGA movement — Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kari Lake, and Lauren Boebert — have also been mentioned as potential running mates for Trump, but each of them comes with disqualifying aspects — like Lake’s implacable refusal to accept her 2022 defeat in the Arizona governor’s race, or Greene’s deep and enduring association with the crazed conspiracists of Q-anon — that would interfere with any Trumpian attempts to broaden the party’s base by appealing to suburban independents.

Mike Pence proved an effective addition to the national ticket because he clearly counted as a widely admired representative of the party’s mainstream, not a product of the flourishing Trumpist subculture at the edge of the GOP.

This brings us to the one figure for 2024 who most credibly deploys the same advantages as Pence: as a current governor and a former, well-respected member of the House of Representatives.

Kristi Noem is a real possibility

Kristi Noem of South Dakota also offers a unique combination of grit and glamor: She became a beauty queen who reigned as South Dakota’s “Snow Queen” in 1990, but left college early to take over the family farm when her father died in an agricultural machinery accident. In 2022, generally a tough year for Republicans, she won re-election as governor with a 62% landslide, drawing more votes than any gubernatorial candidate in her state’s history.

Skeptics might deride her elevation to a national ticket as a repeat of the Sarah Palin blunder in 2008, by relying on good looks and charisma more than meaningful political experience. But the comparison is altogether unfair: at the time John McCain chose her as his running mate, Palin had been governor of Alaska for less than two years and her only prior electoral experience had been in her small hometown of Wasilla.

Noem, on the other hand, served two terms in the South Dakota state legislature (the second as assistant majority leader) and four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before her first victory as governor.

She has already won the enthusiastic and outspoken admiration of Donald Trump by hosting one of the most successful public events of his presidency (the stirringly patriotic July 4 speech in 2020 at Mt. Rushmore) and for speaking effectively at the Republican Convention of that year. As the mother of three, married to the same man (insurance broker and family farmer Byron Noem) since age 21, the only scandalous behavior in her history involves her dangerously aggressive driving.

More from Medved: The GOP should target Kamala Harris early and often

By the end of 2021, Governor Noem had racked up 26 traffic citations — 20 for speeding, three for stop sign violations, two for seat belt violations, and one for driving without a license. She has apologized repeatedly for this outlaw history to the citizens of South Dakota, but many of her constituents seem to find her speed demon tendencies endearing if not exemplary.

The best argument for Noem as part of the Republican ticket in 2024 involves her dramatic contrast with Kamala Harris and the prospect of their inevitable and significant televised debate. The choice between the midwestern farm girl versus the daughter of divorced, immigrant academics in Berkeley, California, could boost GOP efforts in battleground states like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, with significant rural populations and close results in both of the last two elections.

Above all, bringing Noem onto the national ticket (especially if he announces the choice before the convention in Milwaukee) would help to “Republicanize” Trump — giving his candidacy at least some flavor of heartland normality and wholesomeness, lessening the chance that the ’24 ticket will be viewed as alien invaders from planet MAGA. Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa, another possibility for the Vice-Presidential nomination, would provide a similar reassuring impact.

Of course, Donald Trump will instinctively savor his position as the star of the circus and the center of attention for as long as he can possibly maintain it, but the addition of a more conventional teammate in the early stages of the campaign might also help by taking the focus away from legal problems and other unnecessary and distracting controversies. At the same time, the choice of an energetic and appealing Number Two for the Republican nominee (whoever it is) can help attract Americans of every perspective who yearn for an element of novelty and freshness beyond the dreary duopoly of two grumpy old men.

Listen to Michael Medved weekday afternoons from 12 – 3 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3).

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Picking the right running mate could powerfully boost Trump’s prospects