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From the New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. The makeup of the 2024 presidential race has felt inevitable from the start, with one notable exception, Donald Trump's choice of a running mate. Today, my colleague, Mike Bender, examines the top contenders for the job and what choosing them would tell us about Trump himself in this campaign.


It's Thursday, June 13th.


Mike, somehow this is your first appearance on the show, so welcome at long last to The Daily.


Thank you for having me.


It's my pleasure. You have spent the past few weeks trying to get inside Donald Trump's search for a vice president. And what is so unusual about this search is that we already know know what Trump wanted in a vice president from his 2016 campaign when he picked Mike Pence. And we know how badly that all ended with Trump openly denouncing Pence for not helping him overturn his 2020 election loss and reportedly, endorsing calls for Pence's death, his hanging at the Capitol on January sixth. With all of that behind us, what is Trump looking for this time around?


Yeah, I mean, the Which is very different from where he was at this time eight years ago. Eight years ago, he was a first-time candidate, and he needed credibility with the evangelical community. I mean, remember, Donald Trump is a thrice married playboy from New York, whose sex life was splashed across the New York tabloids. Adding Mike Pence to the ticket gave him a lot of credibility with evangelicals and with establishment Republicans. Pence was a governor of Indiana and had been a former congressman. He provided a port of entry for these folks into Trump world and settled a lot of them down. It's a very different calculus this time around. Trump believes voters are going to make their decision based on the top of the ticket, not the running mate.


Based on Trump himself.


Based on Trump himself and the fact that we have two incumbents effectively running. Everyone who's going to vote in this election has opinions formed about Biden and Trump. There's really no one that he can add to the ticket that is going to make a giant difference or going persuade people in a major way to come on board. And he's probably right about that.


So in a way, you're saying Trump's search for number two is defined by what it's not focused on, which is he's not trying to solve a political problem through his vice presidential pick.


Yeah, that's right. He's not giving a lot of value to a political upside of a candidate. There's a lot of chatter early on, you remember, about maybe adding a woman to the ticket. Trump has hemraged support from suburban women for eight years. And there was a thought that if he could find a strong woman in a governor's office or in Congress to add to the ticket that she could help persuade some of these folks back to Trump's side. But my reporting here is that there were some women in consideration at the very beginning stages of this process, but he hasn't seriously considered a woman for this job in quite a while now.


Fascinating. Okay, so we've been focused a lot, Mike, on what Trump is not focused on in his VP search. Let's turn to what he is putting a lot of weight on as he searches for a number two.


Well, right now, my reporting is that the biggest factor, the biggest through line through some of his top-tier candidates, are folks I'm calling do-no-harm candidates.


What are you made by that?


The best example of this is Christie Noem and what not to do. Christie Noem is the governor of South Dakota. She has long been a rising star in the party. She's joined Trump on the campaign trail several times, very much wanted this job. But Governor Christie Noem has had, let's call it a tough time lately with that story that just won't go away. It all came crashing down a couple of months ago when she put a book out.


It includes a bizarre story about her shooting and killing her dog.


Detailing how she dragged her 14-month-old dog, Cricket, out to her gravel pit and shot it dead. After killing her dog, she says she also killed their goat. What the hell was South Dakota Governor Christie Noem thinking This set off a firestorm in the media. What a charming anecdote to include in a book. Who was her editor? Where even Fox news hosts couldn't get enough of this. In your new book, it's called No Going Back, you include a story about shooting your dog. And kept asking her. Did the dog story come up in your conversation? I talk to President Trump all the time. About the dog? About a lot of things. Right now- To explain Cricket, to explain the dog. Did you bring up the dog? Yes. Enough, Stuart. Did This interview is ridiculous what you were doing right now. So you need to stop. It is. Okay.


It is. Let's talk about it. To her great frustration.


And to the great frustration of Trump. He was telling people that he did not want to be out answering questions about a vice presidential candidate who shot their dog. It even became gallows humor for him at some point. Randomly in conversations, he would ask people, Well, have you shot your dog? He would end conversations telling people, make sure you don't shoot your dog. So this is an example of something Trump does not want to deal with on the campaign trail. That probably goes for just about any presidential candidate. But what is particularly important for Trump right now is that his plate is full of distractions. He was just convicted of 34 felonies in New York and has a litany of other legal problems he's facing. So the most important thing for him right now is a vice presidential candidate who is a disciplined campaigner and can go out there and not cause any more unwanted distractions for his campaign.


All right. So besides do me no harm, where else is Trump putting his focus in a VP search?


The eventual VP is going to have to meet Trump's primetime reality TV show version of being out of central casting. And what I mean by that in this context is he wants someone who go on television and defend him ably and effectively. The other thing that's very interesting to me is that the former President gives outsize importance to debate performance. He believes that he won the election in 2016, in large part because of his own performance in the debates against Hillary Clinton. For that reason, since then, really, he's felt like debates can be determinative and want someone who he feels comfortable, can go on television and hold his own against Kamala Harris, a seasoned politician and former prosecutor. So whoever Trump picks is going to have to be able to hold his own in this arena. But it's always a fine line with Trump. They're going to have to perform well, be effective, but not effective enough where they start to approach Trump's spotlight.


Say more about that.


Yeah. I mean, this is a President who puts a very high value on loyalty, but it's a very unique twist on loyalty. He has a very specific definition. The first rule of proving loyalty to Trump is not to overshadow him. He doesn't want someone out there who he feels like is trying to leverage his political brand And Trump does not really want a successor here. A lot of presidential committees will pick someone who can help build the party, particularly in a second term. The attention naturally turns to the vice president and who's coming next. Trump has shown little interest in that. So while he wants someone who will be a great presence on TV and on the campaign trail, that running mate better be good, but not too good.


So in summary, Trump's VP research goes something like this. I don't really care if you win me a key voting block. Don't cause me problems. And while I want you to be able to wow an audience, you can't wow them more than me.


That's absolutely right. Based on those principles, his team has actually put out a pretty extensive list of Republicans who they are vetting for the job right now. But my reporting is that this list is a little wider than the folks who Trump is really considering. His team is trying to build drama and suspense and also give him some room to change his mind before he officially makes his pick at the Republican National Convention in July. But at this moment, based on my reporting, there are three people who Trump is seriously considering for his next vice president.


We'll be right back.


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Mike, tell us about these top three contenders at this moment for Trump's vice presidential slot and how Trump is thinking about each of them.


Yeah, one we can start with is the Senator from Ohio, JD Vance.


Despite all outward appearances, I'm a cultural outsider. I didn't come from the elites.


Most listeners will probably remember JD Vance as the guy who burst onto the national scene with a book about his time growing up in Ohio.


I came from a Southern Ohio steel town, and it's a town that's really struggling in a lot of ways, the ways that are indicative of the broader struggles of America's working class.


That explained the forgotten man and woman in America right at the time that Trump was leveraging that idea to become President of the United States. Right.


Here with me is JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy.


Jd has been unlocking the mystery to Donald Trump's appeal. J. D. Vance went on a national book tour. He was on television, on podcasts, talking about his book.


Donald Trump, if nothing else, is relatable to the average working class American because he speaks off the cuff, even if half of the things that he says don't make any sense or a quarter of the things that he says are offensive.


But also talking pretty negatively about Donald Trump.


Right. I can't stomach Trump. I think that he's noxious and is leading the white working class to a very dark place.


He was really scathing in how he depicted Donald Trump as effectively a con artist who was taking advantage of the people that he was writing about to fuel his political rise.


Look, I wasn't a big Trump guy in 2016, but I think he did a good job.


Until he changed his mind on Trump.


That's why I supported him in 2020. I think the recognition that I changed my mind is one of the reasons why the President came and endorsed me.


It was helpful. And that comes a few years later when Vance decides to run for Senate in 2022.


I actually aligned with the America First Movement on the core issues.


By then, he had come 180 degrees on Trump.


Trump was right that we need to make things in this country again so that we're self-sufficient.


And this works for Vance. He wins Trump's endorsement, beats a pretty crowded field for the Republican nomination in Ohio, and wins election in 2022, which, if you remember, it was a pretty tough year for Trump endorsements. A lot of Trump pics in big states lost, and JD Vance was the crown jewel of that election for the former President.


So a rather convenient transformation from Trump critic to Trump fan results in JD Vance winning a seating the US Senate.


That's absolutely right. And he has become one of Trump's fiercest defenders in the Senate.


Support the President, volunteer for him, donate for him, and please, for the love of God, vote for him in November because Jesse- And he's a constant presence on the media circuit. Number one, I'm here for the simple reason to show support for a friend. I think this trial is absolutely ridiculous. I think it's a sham prosecution.


Most recently, he was in Manhattan sitting with Trump in the courtroom.


I think this is disgraceful. I don't care what you call it, Wolf. That Trump is disgraceful, is that what you're saying? I think this proceeding, this legal proceeding is disgraceful.


And then fighting for Trump, defending him, and criticizing the prosecution in front of the TV cameras afterward.


I don't care what you call this, but this is not the America that I know and love. Why aren't we talking about Inflation Wolf? Why aren't we talking about Biden's wide open Southern border? This entire trial was cooked up to distract from Joe Biden's failures.


This is exactly what Trump wants in a vice president. Vance is maybe the best in this top tier at defending Trump publicly. He knows when to become a fire breathing ideologue. He knows when to turn the temperature down and become self-effacing and brush off tough questions.


Got it. So he's definitely got the very good on TV box checked. And as you said earlier in our conversation, that's just essential.


Yeah, absolutely. But I do think when it comes to Senator Vance, some of these strengths could be risks for him when it comes to making Trump's ticket. He is very ambitious and he is very young. If Vice President Vance is sworn in next year, there will be immediate speculation about his potential running in 2028 as a president.


So you're saying he runs the risk of overshadowing Trump, which is a cardinal sin in Trump's book?


Yeah, that's right. Right now, in my reporting, that's a strike against Vance when it comes to VP contention.


Okay, so Mike, who's next on the list of Trump's top three contenders at the moment?


Next on the list is someone you remember well, Michael, Senator Marco Rubio from Florida. Right. Yeah, you were pretty key in covering his 2016 campaign. Right.


And like Vance, Mike, He has been on a very long journey of mocking and then trying to reconcile with Trump.


That's exactly right. Rubio was the rising star of the Republican Party pre-Trump, the son of Cuban immigrants with a very powerful story of his own bootstraps rise and was seen as a potential front runner for the Republican nomination until Trump showed up on the scene.


He doesn't sweat because his pores are clogged from the spray tan that he uses.


And Rubio's response to Trump was pretty wild.


Donald is not going to make America great. He's going to make America orange.


What Rubio did was basically try to match Trump with schoolyard taunt.


Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why, because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know.


He went after Trump on the debate stage.


If he builds the wall the way he built Trump towers, he'll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.


The second. Went after his personal life as the three divorces.


Well, I don't know anything about bankrupting four companies. He's bankrupt.


His multiple bankruptcies and in pretty colorful language.


So I'm looking at little Marco and I say, Man, there's something happening with him.


Trump returned fire even more so and really just demolished Rubio in aggressively personal terms.


And I see him starting to sweat like I have never seen anything like it.


Said how much he was sweating on the stage.


Thank God he has really large ears, the biggest ears I've ever seen.


Made fun of his ears, portrayed him as a lightweight who shouldn't be President, couldn't go toe to toe with any other foreign leaders, and really set him back politically.


I called him a lightweight. I said at one point he was a lightweight. I don't mean to be insulting, But I do describe people somehow well.


I mean, suffice it to say, by the end of the 2016 race, the concept that there could ever be a Trump Rubio ticket was completely un them a ball.


Yeah, exactly. But what a lot of people don't realize is that Rubio really repaired that relationship with Trump. Rubio won more votes in his Senate race in Florida than Trump did for President in Florida. And that was broadly important to Trump. He brought that up repeatedly. Trump likes winners, right? Rubio had won more votes than him, so there must be... He must have missed something. He invited Rubio over to the White House early on as a charm offensive with Rubio. In the next few years, Rubio really did become a behind the scenes close advisor for Trump on foreign policy and some other areas. Now heading into 2024, Trump trusts him, views him as a valuable ally, and maybe even more than that as a pretty effective of a tack dog.


Right now, with Joe Biden in the White House, our adversaries are going to conclude that there are things they can get away with and they can do because this White House is not strong, they're not prepared, they're not even competent, and I fear what that means. This is a big, big problem.


Rubio has gotten very aggressive on television, going after the Biden administration and really the President himself.


If we have another four years of Joe Biden, I don't know what this country is going to look like, but none of us are going to be happy about it.


Right. Clearly no accident because he knows he's in contention for the VP spot.


Absolutely. Just to put a fine point on it, you would say yes if you were asked to serve as his vice presidential nominee?


That would be presumptuous for me. I think anyone who's offered that job to serve this country in the second highest office, assuming everything else in your life makes sense at that moment. If you're interested in serving the country, it's an incredible place to serve. But we're getting way ahead of our- Rubio clearly checks off a ton of boxes, TV ready, loyal, attacked dog, doesn't seem to do any harm to the ticket, I'm guessing here.


He's meaningfully older than Vance. Any weaknesses we should make sure to touch on when it comes to Rubio?


Yeah, the risks for Rubio are counterintuitive here. The big thing is that Trump isn't sure he really wants the job. He has not sat with Trump in the courtroom as others have. He hasn't become a fixture at the former president's rallies. He's not turned himself into furniture at Mar-a-Lago like other Republicans. This idea that he wants to show Trump he wants the job, but not too badly. It's a strategy with a clear logic here. I mean, again, we talked about protection of Trump's spotlight. But I'm told my reporting is that the strategy has confused Trump. I talked to someone who sat with Trump the other day, and Trump asked him point blank, does Rubio even want the job? That's not a good look for the Florida Senator.


Fast thing. So the flip side of Don't shadow me is, make sure that I feel a sufficient amount of your love. And Rubio, so far, hasn't shown Trump enough love.


That's exactly right.


Okay, I think that brings us now to the third of these contenders.


And probably the least known. This is Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, who would be, if he joins a ticket and wins election, the first vice president from the great state of North Dakota. So who's Doug Burgum? Who is Doug Burgum?


Doug Burgum is a kid that grew up in a small town, art in North Dakota, 300 people. The streets weren't even paved.


Burgum has amassed his own fortune.


I saw my first computer and I said, Wow, that's going to change the world.


By repeatedly building billion-dollar companies, including one he sold to Microsoft.


Had this fantastic run as a public company, got acquired by Microsoft, and then I joined that team and helped build Microsoft.


He's close friends with the billionaire former executive of Microsoft, and has a number of other wealthy, rich tech investors on speed dial. This is important for Trump because he likes having connections to rich people who serve as a validation for Trump. If you're serving for me, that enhances Trump's brand and Trump's self-worth.


Working with President Trump as a governor was like having a beautiful breeze at your back.


I guess I can explain it this way. Trump likes to collect wealthy white men, wealthy white businessmen, like they were porcelain dowels. Who are we going to send back to the White House? Trump.


That's fantastic.


Okay, well, besides Why is this rich white porcelain dollage that Trump likes, what is it about Burgum that has drawn Trump's interest in him as a potential VP?


Yeah, Burgum is in his mid '60s, which makes him closer to being a generational peer to Trump, who's in his late '70s. And Trump likes generational peers. I remember in 2017, the average age of his cabinet was 62 years old, which was one of the oldest of any recent president. And Trump also likes Burgum's independence, not not just financially, but politically. He self-funded his own campaign for governor in 2016. He was a outsider candidate and won that race and his re-election without really any help from Trump or Trump's political machine. And that's important to Trump when it comes to who he can trust behind the scenes to tell him what he needs to know. He doesn't want someone to do that publicly. He doesn't want to be embarrassed. He doesn't want to be overshadowed. But behind the scenes, he does want some back and forth. He does to hear different points of view. When you agree with Trump behind the scenes, he wants to know that it's not because you're afraid that he might turn against you. Other folks who owe their entire political rise to Trump might have trouble connecting with the former President on that level.


The folks I've talked to, have been in the room with Burgum and Trump, have told me they have a very easy dynamic. There's a very clear respect on both sides, and these guys seem to like each other.


So this is fascinating, Mike. It sounds like one of Burgum's biggest advantages is that his political career has been pretty independent of Trump. He didn't start out as a Trump critic who then needed to bend the knee for his own political survival in the same way that both Vance and Rubio did. Instead, Burgum made his way in politics by his own accord. He doesn't really owe Trump much of anything. To Trump, that might mean Burgum's more willing to be candid with him, albeit behind the scenes, not publicly. On top of all that, he's older and therefore less of a threat to Trump's spotlight, less at risk of overshadowing him.


Yeah, that's exactly right. I would sum up Burgum's advantages as saying he's probably in this group, the safest pick for Trump, but in a weird way, he's also the biggest wild card. What I mean by that is He is relatively untested on the national stage, even though he did run for President last year. But that was really a short-lived campaign. If you blink, you missed it. He's not really been on television as much as Rubio and Vance in recent years. He is, to put it generously, not known for thrilling applause lines on the campaign trail. He has almost eight years in the governor's office in a very, very Republican state with some very conservative policies that will get dug into by the national media. The big one, I think, is a hugely restrictive abortion law he signed last year as governor. Trump is responsible for overturning Roe versus Wade, but he sees abortion as a real tough issue for Republicans. Having a running mate who signed a law that bans abortions after six weeks, including no exceptions for rape or incest after six weeks, is going to be a tough one for the ticket in the general election.


Burgum does a lot of the things that Trump wants in a VP, but the problem would seem to be that he might do some harm to the ticket, and Trump has that do no harm rule.


That's absolutely right. When it comes to Trump's decision, the former President has a lot of things to think about.


Mike, we've been spending all this time talking about what Trump wants in his VP in 2024 and how these three potential contenders fit into that. But what we haven't talked about, to circle back to the beginning and what Trump did to Mike Pence, is what Trump may ask of these three guys if they were to become his VP and how comfortable these three contenders might be in doing those things. I mean, everything our colleagues have been reporting so far shows that a second Trump term would involve him testing the bounds of the Constitution. He's going to seek more power than any president has in modern He's talked about firing anyone in the government bureaucracy who challenges him. He's talked about turning the Department of Justice into a tool for revenge against his political foes. What does it say about these VP contenders that they want to be the number two in that administration.


To orbit Trump is to put at risk your own personal dignity. All of these folks folks are very smart people who understand that. They know that they're going to be put in some very precarious positions, and they're going to have to shift their own thinking when it comes to politics, personal pride, and maybe even their legal interpretations of the Constitution.


Right. I think about how many people, Mike, in Trump's orbit have been charged with a crime for what they did, for example, around January sixth.


Exactly. I mean, there are very few people who have put themselves in service of Trump and have emerged for the better. All of these top three contenders have been on their own long journey inside the Republican Party to get to where they are now. To join Trump's ticket is really an acknowledgement that the old ways of thinking about the Republican Party and Republicanism and conservatism are over and that Trump has won. The reward for that acquiescence is potentially a spot as the number two Republican in the country, and possibly next year, the number two position in the most powerful government in the world.


Well, Mike, thank you very much. We appreciate it.


Thank you so much.


We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. On Wednesday, Southern Baptists voted to oppose the use of in vitro fertilization. It was an indication that ordinary evangelicals are increasingly open to arguments that equate embryos with human life, and that fetal personhood may be the next front for the anti-abortion movement. The resolution against IVF, adopted at the Southern Baptist annual meeting, is notable because fertility treatments are widely used by evangelicals. And officials at the Federal Reserve said they would make a single cut to interest rates this year, suggesting that they are in no hurry to lower historically high borrowing costs. The Fed continues to believe that high interest rates, which remain above 5%, are the best weapon against inflation because they slow spending by both consumers and businesses. Today's episode was produced by Rob Zybko, Stella Tan, and Carlos Prieto, with help from Jessica Cheung and Nina Feldman. It was edited by Rachel Quester, contains original music by Marion Lozano, Ron Niemisdoh, and Diane Wong, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of WNDYRLE. That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Maboro. See you tomorrow.