Hill GOP urges Trump to consider a running mate with center-right appeal — maybe even Haley

Donald Trump is getting clear advice from a sizable number of Hill Republicans, even some MAGA loyalists: Pick a running mate who can attract more wary GOP voters on the center-right.

Some of them even want him to consider a rival he’s publicly ruled out, Nikki Haley — who recently revealed she’d be voting for him. And if Haley can’t make an improbable comeback, many Republican lawmakers want to see Trump pick one of two other former opponents with the same outside-of-MAGA allure: Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“People in these primaries are still voting for Nikki Haley. I think that we need to be focused on that group of people. I hope we get a vice president that will appeal to that group,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said. “Then those folks will start coming home.”

The fact that Hill Republicans are even mentioning Haley, whom Trump has already vowed to exclude from his options, signals that many in the GOP still see party unity problems despite the former president’s rosy recent poll numbers, according to interviews with roughly two dozen Republicans in both chambers. Haley continues to attract votes in Republican primaries long after dropping out, and given how baked-in public opinions are about both Trump and President Joe Biden, the VP pick is one of few remaining unknowns in the race.

Republicans’ push for a running mate who might balance out Trump’s bombastic style of politics isn’t universal: Some GOP lawmakers are nudging Trump to select a fighter in the mold of Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy or even Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But Haley’s name keeps cropping up as a possible unity pick in Trump’s divided GOP, much like Mike Pence’s did in 2016.

Allies of Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations were even encouraging her to call Trump and offer an olive branch. South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, the sole House Republican to endorse Haley, is among those still holding out hope she could be his No. 2. When Norman heard Haley endorsed Trump on Wednesday evening, he was buoyant, calling it “great news.”

“I would not discount Nikki,” added Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump’s former Interior secretary. “He wants to make sure his running mate does not necessarily reflect himself, but also really reflects areas where he needs to be more competitive to win.”

Trump is said to be weighing several other options to join the ticket, including House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. GOP lawmakers close to him, such as Zinke, have offered their advice directly. Others offer him their counsel only when prompted, or simply chime into the debate indirectly at strategic times.

Republicans itching for a Trump running mate who’s not necessarily seen as a favorite of his base aren’t aligned around a particular person, but rather a type: someone with suburban appeal who can patch up Trump’s standing with those voters, especially women. If Haley remains on the outs, Scott’s name is increasingly popular in the congressional GOP.

The South Carolina senator, whom Haley appointed to that seat, ran his brief presidential bid with an upbeat, forward-looking style that impressed many senior Republicans. He’s been an active Trump surrogate on the trail since dropping out, even holding a fundraiser aimed at targeting donors reluctant to back Trump.

“He’ll serve the president well,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has made the case for Scott directly to Trump. “Tim has wide and deep support.”

As for Haley, Graham said, “she’d have been a good choice, but I’m afraid there’s been too much damage done.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) agreed: “It’s too bad that Nikki Haley is out of it. … I do think she would be a really, really good running mate for him,” he said in an interview, also adding that “if you’re looking for a demographic choice that adds value to the ticket, I mean, it’s hard to beat Tim Scott.”

A new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll out this week pointed to Scott’s high national favorable rating. Another Senate Republican is catching the GOP’s eye, though: Rubio.

“They must want me out of the Senate,” Rubio deadpanned about his presence on an early running-mate short list. “We’re a long ways from there, I haven’t talked to the president or his team about that … if that opportunity presents itself, I’ll have to give you a better answer.”

The third-term GOP senator has slightly more headaches than Scott, chiefly the fact that he would likely have to change his residence to avoid a constitutional ban on presidents and vice presidents living in the same state. Choosing Rubio could also open up a Senate seat in a more competitive state than South Carolina, though Republicans have dominated recent statewide elections in Florida.

But as a Cuban American with conservative bona fides and deep knowledge of the Senate and foreign affairs, Rubio is an enticing option for some Trump allies.

“Marco Rubio would be good. … He’s already proved he’s pretty competent,” said Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), Trump’s medical adviser during his first term. Jackson also raised the idea of Ben Carson, Trump’s former housing secretary.

Among the most MAGA-first members of the Hill GOP, it’s clear that Scott and Rubio are preferable to Haley.

“People keep trying to float Nikki Haley’s name on the list. And [Trump] keeps saying ‘not happening.’ I would agree with that,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a House Freedom Caucus member. “Tim Scott will help him, Marco Rubio will help him, Elise Stefanik will help him. I think J.D. Vance will help him.”

The pugnacious Vance is increasingly a top choice for those looking for a more aggressive vice presidential nominee. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who is running for an open Senate seat, said Vance “appeals to the working-class voters in swing states and the Midwest who will decide the 2024 election … and I think having a combat veteran on the ticket would be a big benefit to President Trump.”

In an interview, Vance said he had no inside intel.

“I’ll just say I’m glad it’s not my decision,” Vance added. “He’s got pretty good instincts. My advice, for what it’s worth, is that Trump follows his.”

Cramer said that while he likes Vance personally, he doesn’t think the Ohio senator would maximize Trump’s electoral advantages this November: “[Vance] just cements the MAGA world, but they’re already pretty well cemented in.”

Another name that’s coming up more often is Burgum, who has made his pro-Trump feelings known since he dropped out of the presidential race. He has fans on the Hill too, including Cramer. He has also earned brownie points with the Trump world for playing wingman to the former president.

“I think he brings a lot to the table that would be good for Ag and Energy and good for President Trump,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), who is throwing his weight behind Burgum. Armstrong said his state’s governor, whom he’s looking to succeed, is “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”

One Trump ally in the House, also granted anonymity to speak candidly, praised Burgum’s Trump appeal.

“Two executives, two billionaires, he’s comfortable in that arena,” this ally said. “Plus, you know, Trump likes to be around good-looking people who have just as much money as he has.”

This Republican also dismissed Scott’s prospects, noting that despite a “phenomenal” life story he failed to pick up momentum in the presidential race.

And Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a member of GOP leadership, threw his backing behind Stefanik. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who likes Scott and Rubio, also suggested Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) could be a good pick.

While other names are floating around, Ramaswamy has less juice on the Hill, and several Republicans shook their heads at the idea of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who they feel torpedoed her chances with the controversies surrounding her new book.

“He picked somebody who could win the election in 2016,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who isn’t playing favorites. “If he’s consistent, he’ll do something like that this year.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) advised Trump to look at a VP pick who “really reflects areas where he needs to be more competitive to win.”  

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