When June Avinger thinks about who former President Donald Trump should choose as a running mate, she's strategic.

"Sarah Huckabee Sanders is one, but I don't know, because he's gonna need someone in a state more blue than Arkansas," she said, laughing at a Trump rally in February.

Nearby, Arlene Lutz hoped Trump would consider one of his former rivals for the nomination.

"I like Vivek [Ramaswamy], but I don't know if he's going to pick him, I don't know who he has in mind," she said.

Andrea Taylor had an idea she was only partially joking about.

"Tucker Carlson!" she exclaimed, laughing. "I know it'll never happen. I just think it would be funny. I think it would be so funny that it would just blow people's minds."

Trump supporters are excited, curious, and ready to back their candidate's eventual choice — the way partisans are in any election year. But that normalcy belies the fact that no matter who Trump chooses, unique — even unprecedented — circumstances surround his running mate pick.

Only four years, and then a MAGA successor?

Trump is 77, and age may simply make a successor more important to voters.

There's also the fact that Trump can only serve one more term. Supporter Andrea Taylor said she has that in mind as she thinks about who the running mate will be.

"He's only got, what, four years? So whatever he chooses, hopefully will do the next four and maybe continue whatever he's trying to fix here," she said.

That gets at something else: some voters are thinking about how Trumpism will live on after Trump. To the extent that Trump is picking an heir apparent, it's not only to lead the Republican Party, but potentially to lead the MAGA movement.

Veteran Republican strategist Alice Stewart thinks that's on Trump's mind as well.

"Donald Trump is concerned about his legacy and the MAGA legacy," she said. "And certainly, ideally, he would prefer to have someone who not only is going to pick up the baton and run with it as his vice president, but will continue the MAGA baton into the future."

What running mates do and don't do

It's easy to overstate the effects of a running mate according to Christopher DeVine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton and author of the book Do Running Mates Matter?

Running mate picks don't generally make or break a candidate's chances, he said.

"Vice presidential candidates have this indirect effect and what I mean by that is that they shape perceptions of the presidential candidate," he explained.

Candidates often choose running mates as a way of making a point or reassuring voters about a perceived weakness. For example, when Barack Obama chose Joe Biden in 2008, it was seen as a way to show the young senator was surrounding himself with more experienced people. Likewise, when Trump chose former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in 2016, that was widely seen as a way to appeal to evangelical voters and put political experience on the ticket.

"It's often referred to as the first presidential act, who you select for vice president" Devine said. "And it tells the voters a lot about who you are."

But again, Trump is unique here: voters very much know who Trump is and what kind of president he will be. That means Trump can focus on a quality he values maybe more than any other.

Seeking loyalty (or maybe more than loyalty)

According to strategist Alice Stewart, Trump's fixation on loyalty is unquestionable.

"We all know that Donald Trump's considerations for key positions in his administration are mainly based on loyalty over leadership, and that's going to be a big factor that goes into his decision making process," she predicted.

Which may be why potential vice presidential contenders at the heavily emphasized their Trump support at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem was one of them.

"I was one of the first people to endorse Donald J. Trump to be our next president," she told the crowd. "Last year, when everyone was asking me if I was going to consider running for president, I said no. Why would you run for president if you can't win?"

How important is loyalty to Trump? Consider Trump's warnings to his last vice president on January 6, when Pence certified Joe Biden as the 2020 election winner.

"And Mike Pence, I hope you're going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country," Trump told his crowd before the violence on Capitol Hill that day. "And if you're not, I'm going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now."

That day, members of Trump's crowd chanted "hang Mike Pence."

Political scientist Christopher Devine said that if Trump is thinking about his past pick while making his current pick, that will also make this a truly unusual presidential choice.

"In that case, I don't think the word loyalty is really enough to capture what Donald Trump would be looking for," he said. "I think we're looking at more something like fealty or servility."

This weekend, Trump will hold a rally in Rome, Ga., home of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. She's a top Trump surrogate so maybe she's also a contender.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

300x250 Ad

300x250 Ad

Support quality journalism, like the story above, with your gift right now.