Calm, conservative, confident: What GOP senators want in Trump’s vice presidential pick

By: and - June 25, 2024 10:43 am

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 13: Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) at the National Republican Senatorial Committee building on June 13, 2024 in Washington, DC. Trump is visiting Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans and participate in additional meetings. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Republican members of the U.S. Senate striving for a takeover of their chamber in the November elections have a wish list for what they’d like to see in Donald Trump’s running mate.

A “little calmer” than Trump. Confident. Conservative. Military experience. Good relationships with senators. Ready to take over as chief executive if needed, they told States Newsroom in interviews.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has held off on revealing his pick. But he’s dropped tantalizing compliments about a few of the short-list candidates, producing non-stop headlines about the veepstakes in advance of the Republican National Convention next month.

So far, Trump hasn’t indicated a clear favorite, leading to incessant speculation about what characteristics he’s looking for in his second-in-command this time around, the person who will head up the GOP ticket with him in what’s likely to be a close election.

In 2016, Trump selected Indiana’s Mike Pence, in part to sway evangelical Christians who were skeptical about Trump’s moral character.

Trump is seeking a second term in office as a convicted felon found guilty on 34 counts in New York for falsifying business records related to a hush money payment to an adult film star ahead of the 2016 election. He’s also facing federal charges for seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election and has cast aside Pence after his former vice president refused to take part in the scheme.

That, however, hasn’t diminished the number of GOP lawmakers and former presidential hopefuls jostling to join his ticket.

Trump’s list of vice presidential candidates reportedly includes North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, Florida U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, New York U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and Ohio U.S. Sen. JD Vance.

Republican senators, including some thought to be in the running to be tapped as the veep candidate, met with Trump on June 13 to map campaign strategy and portray unity.

Trump told NBC News on Saturday his pick “most likely” will be at Thursday night’s debate with President Joe Biden in Atlanta.

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., is reportedly on Donald Trump’s list of potential running mates. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

Confidence and a coalition

Several Republican senators interviewed by States Newsroom offered suggestions for what traits might be most helpful for Trump in a vice president during a potential second term.

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said she’s hoping to see a vice presidential pick who can bring confidence and a wider GOP coalition to the table.

“I think you want somebody who has broad knowledge, not just national, but international, (you want) decisiveness, and somebody who’s got leadership that you could actually see taking the reins of the presidency, somebody who has conservative principles on the Republican side and is a proven leader,” Capito said.

“I would imagine for President Trump, it’s going to be somebody that brings a broader constituency to him,” Capito said, adding “and is probably a little calmer than he is.”

‘Good relationships across the spectrum’

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said Trump would “benefit from somebody who, in the right setting, is providing a lot of good upward feedback, supporting the president’s agenda.”

The former and possibly future president would also gain from a pick who is “well studied on the issues,” and if it’s a senator, “a person with good relationships across the spectrum would help,” Tillis said.

“We’re probably going to have a tight margin, so if you think about maybe somebody who has past relationships with people in the House, good relationships with the Republican conference. I mean, we’re gonna have some tough votes,” Tillis said.

For example, Congress faces a massive tax code fight next year as several provisions in the 2017 Republican tax law are set to expire. Tillis recalled the internal GOP debate in 2017 “wasn’t a cakewalk.”

“We had to work to get Republican support,” Tillis said. “So having somebody that naturally has that chemistry, you know, whether or not you’ve worked on legislation, or you just have a good relationship going in. If I were in President Trump’s position, that’d be a key factor.”

Congress will also need to address the debt limit next year, a debate that carries significant economic consequences, both domestically and around the globe.

U.S. Sen Joni Ernst said she wants Trump to pick someone with foreign relations or military policy experience. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A stint in the military

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst — a top member of the Armed Services Committee and a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard — said she “would love to see somebody that does have foreign relations or military policy experience.”

“I think that would be key, to have someone that’s young and enthusiastic and would be able to fill the role of our next president as well,” Ernst said.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said that Trump might want to pick someone whom voters feel confident can follow him as the leader of the Republican Party.

“I’m not sure that vice presidential nominees have a lot of impact, influence on how people vote,” Moran said. “But I would say that this may be a year in which that matters — (given the) age of candidates. And so who might follow is probably of interest to people. And I would say that the best qualification is somebody who’d be a great president.”

Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who is likely to become his home state’s next governor, said Trump needs someone who thinks like him politically, so the two don’t differ on policy issues, as well as someone ready to become president if required.

“I think someone’s going to have to be on the same wavelength politically, for sure,” Braun said. “I think I’ve heard him say that he wants somebody ready to step into the role if necessary. I think the loyalty factor is something he’s always stressed.”

Alabama Sen. Katie Britt said that no matter who Trump picks off his short list, Republicans will win back the Oval Office in November.

“Every senator on the list is outstanding,” Britt said. “And I’ll be excited about the good things that we’re going to be able to do with him back in office and us in control of the Senate.”

When asked his opinion of Trump’s VP short list, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said, “I haven’t seen anybody on the list that I would object to.”

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said he wouldn’t comment on specific contenders, but added “all the names I’ve heard mentioned seem to be good people.”

“But what counts is what President Trump thinks, and I don’t have the slightest idea who he’s gonna pick,” Kennedy said.

A sitting senator

Republican senators who spoke to States Newsroom appeared mostly unfazed by the possibility that a vice presidential pick could be from among their ranks — even if that lowers what could be a very narrow majority in the Senate come January.

Capito said she thinks a Republican majority will likely remain safe even if Trump chooses one of her colleagues as his running mate.

“I think the ones he’s talking about are from pretty red states, but you know, you’re always concerned about that,” Capito said. “But I think it would be great to have a colleague who was in the Senate with me be our vice president.”

Braun said that Trump might want to consider the polling of several key races for the Senate before picking his nominee.

“I think that could be a consideration,” Braun said. “You take that risk off the table.”

When asked whether a VP pick from the Senate could weaken or upset a GOP majority, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said, “I’m sure Trump will take that into consideration.”

Tillis said he is not concerned about Trump’s VP pick threatening a Republican Senate majority, and he speculated that Trump may even pull from the upper chamber when choosing his Cabinet, should he be elected.

“I think the replacement protocol doesn’t make it a significant issue,” Tillis said.

Grassley echoed Tillis. “Are we talking about Ohio, Florida, South Carolina? That’s it. I don’t think you’d worry about that,” he said.

Forty-five states require the governor to appoint someone to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, and 37 of those states fill the vacancy with the chosen appointment until the next statewide election, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The remaining states — Kentucky, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin — require vacant Senate seats to be filled by a special election.

All of Trump’s picks from the Senate are from states with Republican governors.

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.