© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

‘The Pence Model Is Dead’: What Trump Wants in His Next VP

Donald Trump has already floated names for a potential running mate, but the jockeying for the spot is far from over.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., speaks in front of President Donald Trump
Sen. Tim Scott has campaigned for Donald Trump since dropping his own bid for the GOP nomination. Patrick Semansky/AP

The behind-the-scenes whisper campaign about who Donald Trump will pick as a running mate has turned into an all-out public talent show. And free from the political concerns he faced in 2016, one of the most important factors for this year’s selection will be loyalty to Trump and his philosophy.

“Look, the Pence model is dead,” said Matt Schlapp, the embattled Conservative Political Action Conference chairman and a Trump ally. “I don’t believe he’ll turn to the Pence model again. He’s gonna pick somebody who’s really a different type of person.”

Eight years ago, Trump was an outsider to the Republican Party, facing wariness from some conservatives and evangelicals, making Mike Pence a solid pick. Now, whether a would-be VP would do what Pence did in 2021 — certify the election result against Trump’s orders and declare him the election loser — has become a top question in public.

The former president has already privately begun to casually discuss potential running mates with friends, according to two close allies of Trump, and has publicly floated multiple names. He has said he wants somebody who would be prepared to take over for him should something happen, as he’ll be 78 years old by Election Day, and support his “America First” agenda.

Electoral factors are still a consideration — close allies like Steve Bannon have publicly said Trump should choose a woman, while others have counseled him to choose a person of color. But Trump isn’t narrowing his search just yet. Bannon told NOTUS that Trump is taking a “broad look” and is not focused on identity politics.

“I think he’s gonna go for what he thinks is the best,” Bannon said. “I think he’s gonna do a long search.”

Trump is no longer an outsider but instead the leader of the Republican Party, barreling his way to the nomination, and his pick will be based on what he wants.

“President Trump is the party standard-bearer,” said Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, a vocal member of the Freedom Caucus and Trump ally. “Maybe the selection of Mike Pence was picking a conventional figure to marry with then an upstart presidential campaign. Now President Trump has transformed a lot of things and about our politics and gotten us focused.”

“And I think maybe what you need is somebody who can fight as hard and as readily as President Trump.”


In 2016, Trump began conservations in earnest with potential VP picks in late spring. Trump was focused on both who could help him win and who could perform well during a debate, according to a source familiar with the discussions on the VP search that cycle.

“Whoever ended up on that shortlist, I felt kind of satisfied those two things,” the source said.

How Trump proceeded to engage with candidates on his shortlist varied. Some, like Pence, used designated point people to manage the communication with the campaign, vetting questions with the lawyers and public until it was time to speak with Trump one-on-one.

Others, like Chris Christie, spoke directly with the then-front-runner, his advisers and his family. Christie publicly said that Trump called him in early May and asked if he’d be ready to be his VP.

Trump and Christie had multiple conversations on the topic, according to a person with insight into the discussions; Trump liked Christie because he was someone who could spar with the media on his behalf.

“He was just one of the people that was on Trump’s speed dial at that time,” said the source.

Now that Trump has all but cleared the GOP primary, the process could begin much sooner.

Publicly the businessman turned politician has said he already knew who he would choose, before walking it back. He has said his shortlist includes Gov. Kristi Noem; former competitors turned surrogates Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Rep. Byron Donalds.

Some of these people already have a “sherpa” in charge of pushing their effort to get the pick. NOTUS reached out to sherpas and other representatives for multiple potential VP picks; none said that they or their clients had spoken to the Trump campaign in any meaningful way about the coveted position.

The Trump campaign declined to comment for this story.

But absent any one-on-one conversation, the public jockeying is fully underway. Already rumors of opposition-research dumping against would-be competitors are flying around the D.C. political class. During CPAC, chatter between attendees on who they liked most for Trump’s pick was constant, and many of the people on Trump’s shortlist gave speeches in which they praised the former president.

“It feels like I’m the only one who isn’t running for vice president,” said Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, during his CPAC speech.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump listens as Rep. Elise Stefanik
Rep. Elise Stefanik has closely aligned herself with Trump. Matt Rourke/AP

The potential contenders received a warm reception at CPAC, where 1,500 attendees voted in a straw poll for who Trump should pick for VP. Noem and Ramaswamy tied for first place, followed by Gabbard, Rep. Elise Stefanik and Scott. At the convention, Stefanik was mobbed by attendees decked out in “Make America Great Again” hats or custom “Ultra-MAGA” jackets trying to get a photo.

“Great job, Mr. Vice President,” a CPAC attendee told Donalds as the congressman waded through a group of supporters to get to his Newsmax hit.

Donalds told NOTUS he was “a little” surprised to hear Trump say he was on the shortlist. The lawmaker said he won’t audition for the role.

“I’m just gonna do my job,” he said. “You know, I love the president. I support him 100%. Yeah, the auditioning thing does happen amongst members. I see it too. But that’s just never been me.”

Sign up for the latest from NOTUS.

Kari Lake, a GOP firebrand who is running for a Senate seat in Arizona but consistently included in potential VP punditry, told NOTUS she thinks Trump “wants someone who’s going to be a good partner, who’s going to fight for this country, who’s ‘America First.’”

Some potential VP picks have been more overt. Gabbard spent her 25-minute speech at CPAC solely focused on Trump and his worldview and slamming the Democratic Party, which she left in 2022. Stefanik, who previously said that she would not have certified the 2020 election results like Pence did, repeatedly likened herself to Trump in her rousing speech, invoking his name more than a dozen times and saying her New York district was now “Trump and Elise country.”

One person close to Stefanik told NOTUS that her approach to the VP conversation is: “Less talk, more action.”

“Our whole point of this is to show a record of results,” they said. “She’s actually done this stuff before. It’s not just talk. It’s a lot of action. But I think that’s the differentiator.”

And Noem, who reportedly met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Monday, recently identified the five things the former president needs most in a VP — which coincidentally are all things that sum up her résumé.

“He needs somebody that actually is not part of the swamp, I think. He needs a business owner,” Noem said on Fox News. “He needs somebody who’s been a commander in chief, somebody who makes decisions when things get tough.”


Though Trump appears to be relishing in the media speculation, a former aide cautioned anyone against fawning too much. In fact, it was Pence’s seemingly unfazed demeanor during Trump’s VP search that reportedly made Trump more interested.

“I know that Trump loves that people sort of throw themselves at him in public, but that’s not really who I think he’s gonna choose,” said the aide with knowledge of the 2016 search.

Bannon said that Trump is looking for “quality of character.”

Schlapp has counseled the former president not to worry about picking a successor in his VP since Trump can only serve one term, but instead, someone who can help “drain the swamp.”

Kevin Hassett, Trump’s former senior adviser and economist, likened Trump’s choice to the same one then-candidate George W. Bush made to double down on party ID.

“When George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney to be vice president, everybody was stunned,” he said, noting that Cheney was from Wyoming, a state Bush was already guaranteed to win and there wasn’t a clear way in how he balanced the ticket in conventional terms.

“Dick Cheney was the person that President Bush was most comfortable with,” Hassett continued. “And Dick Cheney was absolutely so experienced in government that he could have taken over the Oval. I think that that’s what I expect for the president when we see his choice.”

Trump critics within the GOP have a more sinister view of what Trump wants.

“At the end of the day, they just want somebody who will do whatever they say,” said a source familiar with the discussions on the 2016 VP search. “Apparently even if it goes against the law or the Constitution, which is not really the definition of loyalty.”

Jasmine Wright is a reporter at NOTUS.