OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
With the first Republican presidential primaries just a year away, the candidate field remains uncertain, but nevertheless, a shadow contest among GOP figures for potential running mates to Donald Trump, the early front-runner for the nomination, is already underway.
“A lot of people are right now auditioning,” Trump told supporters in his home state of Florida last month, as noted by The Associated Press.
Historically, the presidential primary process involves candidates spending the first few months of their campaign introducing themselves to voters and outlining their visions for the country. But as a former president, Trump doesn’t need an introduction and wants to project an air of inevitability around his campaign, especially with the growing attention on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seen as his strongest GOP opponent, the AP noted.
The report said that Trump campaign officials have not been actively discussing potential VP candidates, however.
“We appreciate all support for President Trump, but the clear focus is on making sure that he wins the Republican nomination and is well-positioned to win the general election in 2024,” noted Jason Miller, a longtime Trump adviser.
Still, possible candidates have taken advantage of opportunities to be in close proximity to Trump at his club and events, such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, where three women were seen in the audience cheering Trump’s speech.
“They were Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Elise Stefanik of New York and Kari Lake, the news anchor-turned-failed-Arizona gubernatorial candidate who ended her remarks at a keynote event dinner by kissing a portrait of Trump that was placed on stage,” the AP reported.
According to sources who have spoken with him, Trump is not in a hurry to make a decision on his running mate and is aware that the nomination process must run its course. However, he has been discussing possible choices for some time, including his desire to select a woman as his running mate this time around, the report noted, adding:
In 2016, running as a celebrity businessman with no experience in politics, Trump chose a person who was, in many ways, his total opposite, picking the Indiana governor and former congressman who could bolster his standing with conservatives and the religious right.
Trump, this time, is looking for someone more like himself, said Michael Caputo, a longtime friend and adviser who believes Stefanik would be Trump’s best choice.
“I think the president learned a lot from his experience with Pence,” he said. “I think this time Trump’s going to be looking for someone cut from the same cloth he is, not from a different, complementary cloth.”
That person, according to voters at CPAC, is Lake, who won a straw poll asking who would best serve as Trump’s VP. However, in a statement to the AP, Lake said she is “100% dedicated to serving as Arizona Governor” — even though Democrat Katie Hobbs now has that job — and “will also work to make sure President Trump gets back in the White House ASAP. Anything outside of those two goals is nothing but a distraction.”
Greene is also very much in the running, according to the AP and multiple other sources.
“She sees herself on the short list for Trump’s VP. Paraphrasing Cokie Roberts, when MTG looks in the mirror she sees a potential president smiling back,” said Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in an interview with NBC, referring to the late political reporter.
Asked recently about her future political ambitions including vice president, Greene responded: “That’s up to President Trump who he chooses.”
Stefanik has taken a different tactic that has been described as more subtle by allies, the AP noted. She endorsed Trump even before he announced his candidacy and has become one of his primary defenders in Congress. During the CPAC, Stefanik used her speech to endorse Trump’s reelection and introduced him at a private event organized by his super PAC. Trump also lauded her as a “rocket ship.”