Updated May 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

It's showtime for Trump's VP contenders at Florida fundraiser

Photo iIllustration of Donald Trump behind a chessboard.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez-Pool/Getty Images

Donald Trump's ritzy fundraiser in Palm Beach, Fla., this weekend will double as an audition for several contenders to be his vice presidential nominee.

Why it matters: The months-long shadow campaign to become Trump's running mate in the race for the White House is moving into the light.

Driving the news: Trump is gathering hundreds of donors and prominent GOP lawmakers at Mar-a-Lago that will be the first large, in-person gathering of several potential VP picks, who'll be closely scrutinized by donors and Trump's team.

  • Those VP contenders include Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Tim Scott of South Carolina, Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Byron Donalds of Florida and Govs. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Kristi Noem of South Dakota.

Between the lines: The gathering follows months of positioning by all the potential candidates — frequently as guests of cable news shows that Trump watches.

  • Vance, Rubio and Stefanik in particular have made a point of appearing on more mainstream outlets such as CNN and ABC to face more adversarial questions than they typically would get on more friendly venues such as Fox News and NewsMax.
  • Vance especially has impressed people close to Trump — including his son Donald Trump Jr., who counts Vance as a friend — by his defense of the ex-president, including in an interview with CNN this week.
  • Most also have made clear they believe former Vice President Mike Pence was wrong in not trying to help Trump overturn the results of the 2020 election when Congress met to certify President Biden's victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

Zoom in: Noem has been auditioning aggressively — and wrote an upcoming book that has hurt her standing among some Republicans.

  • She wrote about killing a young dog as an example of her ability to make tough decisions, setting off a social media firestorm and mocking from some members of Congress.
  • Noem also appeared to misstate that she had met North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. Her spokesperson has said the editor is updating the book's reference to that.

Scott has been showing his fundraising power — a particularly attractive trait to Trump's team at a time when President Biden's operation has amassed an early financial advantage.

Vance, elected to the Senate in 2022, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months building up his digital and small-dollar fundraising operation, according to financial disclosures.

  • Vance is not as well-connected with GOP donors as some of the other potential running mates but does have connections to some relatively new GOP donors from the tech world, such as Pay Pal co-founder Peter Thiel.

Burgum, who briefly ran for the GOP presidential nomination and is independently wealthy, has campaigned for Trump in New Hampshire and had Easter brunch with Trump and their wives.

Rubio, another former Trump rival, also has impressed some Republicans close to the ex-president with his sober defense of him on TV. Rubio also has deep ties with GOP donors — including some Trump skeptics.

  • There are concerns about Democrats filing legal challenges to Rubio's eligibility, however, given that he and Trump are both Florida residents and the Constitution bars a president and vice president from being from the same state.
  • Trump could change his residency back to New York but likely would face significant tax penalties and potentially more legal problems — something Trump associates are skeptical he'd do.

Reality check: Trump often muses about his eventual VP pick, but he and his campaign have signaled he won't announce a running mate for several weeks.

  • "Probably not too much before the [GOP] convention, which I happen to be having in the great state of Wisconsin," he told WITI-TV in Milwaukee this week.
  • The Republican National Convention runs July 15-18 in Milwaukee.
  • He could pick a wild card or someone who is not attending the retreat this weekend.

The big picture: Despite Trump's treatment of Pence on Jan. 6 and his criticism of him afterward, many Republicans have signaled they'd be honored to serve with Trump.

  • Win or lose in November, the GOP vice presidential nominee would be a frontrunner for the 2028 nomination. Trump is limited to just one more term.
  • The fundraiser is expected to help Trump make up his fundraising disadvantage against Biden. Donors each can give more than $800,000 now that Trump is the presumptive nominee.

Trump's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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