Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Donald Trump supporters differ over who should be his running mate

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Donald Trump's supporters seem unified in their devotion to him, but they do differ on at least one point - who should be his running mate. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports on what's at stake with Trump's eventual choice.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: When I asked June Avinger before a February Trump rally who she'd want as his running mate, she was thinking strategically.

JUNE AVINGER: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is one, but I don't know because he's going to need to find someone in a state that is a lot more blue than Arkansas.

KURTZLEBEN: Nearby, Arlene Lutz hoped Trump would consider businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

ARLENE LUTZ: I like Vivek Ramsey (ph), but I don't know if he's going to pick him. I don't know who he has in mind.

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

ANDREA TAYLOR: Tucker Carlson (laughter) - I know it'll never happen. I just thought it was funny. I think it would be so funny that it would just blow people's minds.

KURTZLEBEN: But no matter who Trump chooses, it is undeniable that unusual circumstances, to put it mildly, surround his running mate pick. First off, Trump is 77, and age may simply make a successor more important to voters. But there's also the fact that Trump can only serve one more term. Here's Andrea Taylor again, the woman who mentioned Tucker Carlson.

TAYLOR: Because he's only got - what? - four years. So whoever he chooses hopefully will do the next four and maybe continue whatever he's trying to fix here.

KURTZLEBEN: And that gets at something else. Some voters are thinking about how Trump's agenda could live on. Veteran Republican strategist Alice Stewart thinks that's on Trump's mind as well.

ALICE STEWART: Donald Trump is concerned about his legacy and the MAGA legacy, 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.

KURTZLEBEN: In short, if Trump is picking an heir apparent, it's not only to lead the Republican Party, but potentially to lead Trumpism after Trump. To be clear, running mate picks don't generally make or break a candidate's chances. Christopher Devine is a political science professor at the University of Dayton and author of the book "Do Running Mates Matter?"

CHRISTOPHER DEVINE: Vice presidential candidates have this indirect effect. And what I mean by that is that they shape perceptions of the presidential candidate.

KURTZLEBEN: For example, Trump in 2016 chose former Indiana Governor Mike Pence. That was widely seen as a way to appeal to evangelicals. Here's Devine again.

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

KURTZLEBEN: But then, voters very much know who Trump is at this point, meaning Trump can focus on a quality he values maybe more than any other - loyalty. Which may be why potential VP contenders at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month heavily emphasized their Trump support. Here's South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRISTI NOEM: I was one of the first people to endorse Donald J. Trump to be our next president. 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?

KURTZLEBEN: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: And Mike Pence, I hope you're going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you're not, I'm going to be very disappointed in you, I will tell you right now.

KURTZLEBEN: That day, members of Trump's crowd chanted, hang Mike Pence. Christopher Devine said that if Trump is thinking about his former pick in making his current pick...

DEVINE: In that case, I don't think the word loyalty is really enough to capture what Donald Trump would be looking for. If I'm right in saying that, I think we're looking at more something like fealty or servility.

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

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.