Battle to Be Donald Trump’s Vice President Ramps Up

Former President Donald Trump has established himself as the clear favorite to secure the 2024 Republican presidential nomination following victories in the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses, sparking widespread speculation about who he might select as a running mate if he does fight for the White House again in November.

On Tuesday, Trump won in New Hampshire with 54.3 percent of the vote against 43.7 percent for Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor who has emerged as his only other GOP challenger.

Eight days earlier, Trump secured victory in Iowa, the first GOP presidential contest, ahead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Haley. Shortly afterward, DeSantis announced he was dropping out of the race and endorsed Trump.

Mike Pence served as Trump’s vice president during his administration from 2017-21 but ended up falling out badly with his boss after he certified Joe Biden‘s 2020 election victory, despite the then-president claiming the contest had been stolen by fraud. On January 6, 2021, Trump supporters chanted “hang Mike Pence” as they stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed bid to prevent the election result from being certified.

Battle to be Trump's VP ramps up
Photo-illustration by Newsweek/Getty

Following Trump’s victory in New Hampshire, U.K.-based bookies Betfair offered odds on who would be his 2024 running mate should he secure the nomination, with Representative Elise Stefanik of New York leading with odds of 9/2, followed by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem at 6/1. Former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy came third at 15/2, then former Trump-era Housing Secretary Ben Carson at 10/1, Haley at 11/1 and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott at 14/1.

Newsweek spoke with a number of prominent political scientists who had radically different views on who Trump might pick.

Christopher Devine, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton, predicted Trump would emphasis loyalty over competence in his pick.

“Donald Trump should pick a running mate who is well-qualified to be vice president, and president if necessary,” Devine said. “Our research shows that voters reward presidential candidates for making a responsible choice—and penalize them for choosing someone who clearly isn’t up to the job.

“Trump has plenty of well-qualified would-be VPs to pick from, including Tim Scott, Kristi Noem, and even Nikki Haley. But my sense is that he will prioritize loyalty, first and foremost—or perhaps I should say, servility. Remember, Mike Pence was loyal to Trump from the time he joined the ticket to the end of 2020; not once did he contradict, criticize, or break from the president. He only said no to Trump once, on January 6, and that was enough to make him a villain in Trump’s eyes.

“I expect Trump to pick someone who has already demonstrated the willingness to follow Trump wherever he leads, no matter how outlandish the claim or extreme the policy. Vivek Ramaswamy fits the bill, but has no government experience. Elise Stefanik is perhaps a more likely candidate—someone with significant government experience, and even establishment credentials, but also a clear Trump loyalist who seems willing to say or do whatever it takes to make him happy.”

Thomas Whalen, an American politics expert at Boston University, said Trump should pick a running mate who appeals to sections of the electorate he usually struggles to attract.

“Stefanik and Scott make the most sense because they could potentially bolster him politically where he is the weakest—among suburban women voters and African-American voters,” Whalen said. “But Stefanik comes off as a bit of a wingnut….Scott? He’s already the butt of jokes on SNL Weekend Update for his craven sucking up to Trump. He makes the old Mike Pence seem subtle. Ironically, the best VP choice is Nikki Haley but that’s a nonstarter due to the mutual loathing they share for each other.”

Professor J. Wesley Leckrone, an expert in U.S. government at Widener University, said Trump is likely to choose between a charismatic candidate who appeals to his base, or a milder politician to add gravitas.

“Part of the decision on the pick will depend on whether Trump feels like he needs to bring wayward Republicans back into the fold by picking an experienced, mildly staid politician that can defend his policies while adding mild gravitas to the ticket [think Doug Burgum],” he said. “The alternative is someone who adds a lot of flash and flair to the ticket by exciting the Trump base [think Marjorie Taylor Greene or Vivek Ramaswamy]. This type of person would allow him to tack toward the center personally to appeal to independents [who he’s in trouble with] while the VP candidate would consolidate the base.

“My guess is that it is going to be someone who has a combination of experience and flash. Kristi Noem is the perfect candidate. She’s a governor, so she’s not part of the Washington ‘swamp.’ As a Midwesterner she also represents people that live in what conservatives call fly-over America.”

Other academics said Trump could make a surprise pick, such as Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders or even his old rival, DeSantis.

“Trump’s got lots of options, but I can’t see him choosing anyone who chose to challenge him in the primaries,” said Heather Brown, an associate professor of public policy at City University of New York. “I think he wants someone who he trusts, is a good communicator, and who has always had nice things to say about him. That person is Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders.”

Taking a very different view, professor D. Roderick Kiewiet, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa, said: “This will probably strike you as nuts, but I think he is going to pick Ron DeSantis. The moniker Trump gave him—Desanctimonious—was exceedingly mild by Trump standards. Trump was also very gracious and conciliatory when DeSantis dropped out, and things in New Hampshire might have come out less rosy for Trump if DeSantis had stayed in. And I think few Trump supporters would object to him.

“It is true that DeSantis has said he would not serve as Trump’s VP, but that was then and this is now. I think DeSantis would jump at the chance, as it would propel him to easy front-runner status in 2028.”

Professor James E. Vike, a political scientist who teaches at Widener University, said Trump is unlikely to announce his running mate until the spring and suggested his team is promoting speculation on the subject to strengthen his candidacy within the GOP.

“I see the recent incitement of speculation about Trump’s VP selection as an attention-seeking tease by his campaign meant to draw focus to his inevitable victory toward the GOP nomination rather than any potential competitive primary challenge,” he said. “Even though his nomination victory seems certain after the New Hampshire primary, we are still in January and the primary season will continue to slog on into June.

“I predict that the campaign will continue to tease and stoke speculation about a potential running mate over the next month before the South Carolina primary, but I seriously doubt that an actual announcement of a selection will be made until much later in spring.”

Newsweek has reached out to Trump representatives by email for comment.