‘It’s A Cult’: The Race To Be Trump’s Running Mate Hits New Lows

Not even the threats against Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021 are making Republicans think twice about being Donald Trump’s vice president.

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s last vice president was called upon to defend the Constitution and American democracy by refusing to overturn the results of an election. Then his boss turned against him, whipping up an angry mob of supporters so intensely that they constructed a gallows and chanted for him to be hanged.

But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio still wants the job. So do Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Tim Scott of South Carolina. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (yes, even after the story about shooting a dog) and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are also still in the mix to become Trump’s running mate.

Why? Because if you’re an ambitious Republican with an eye on higher office, becoming Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate could be the quickest path to the Oval Office. Whoever Trump picks to join his ticket will become the immediate favorite to become the next GOP presidential standard-bearer, whether the 77-year-old ex-president wins in November or not.

That’s why so many Republicans are not-so-secretly vying for the position with appearances at Trump’s campaign events and on cable news programs in recent weeks, seemingly hoping to out-do each other on who can be the most obsequious MAGA messenger.

But winning Trump’s affection often requires unquestionable loyalty, and that means defending even his most shocking actions — including his unprecedented effort to overturn an election he lost, his vow to pardon rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, his 88 felony charges and his personal conduct, such as his alleged extramarital affair with an adult film star.

Besides — it’s not like they’ll end up in the same position as former Vice President Mike Pence, right? After all, Republicans who want the job say the Constitution limits presidents to serving two terms.

An attempt by the incumbent to stay in power past 2028 is “not going to be an issue for the next vice president, right?” Rubio told HuffPost. “No matter who’s elected president now, they can’t run again.”

Vance, meanwhile, said that what happened between Trump and Pence was a result of “the political consequences of what happened at the time.”

“I think Mike Pence [and] Donald Trump had a very strong disagreement,” he added. “And Mike Pence, you know, he’s fundamentally just was never really on board with the underlying agenda.”

Vance has also said he doubts that Pence’s life “was ever in danger” on Jan. 6.

Rubio and Vance’s decision to downplay the threats to Pence, who said in March he could not support his former boss for president in 2024, are just the latest example of the efforts running mate contenders will go to prove their loyalty.

Scott, for example, last week refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the 2024 election, echoing Trump’s own refusal during an earlier interview with a Wisconsin news outlet. Pressed several times for a direct yes or no, Scott dodged, maintaining there won’t be any issues, since Trump will be the inevitable victor.

“At the end of the day, I said what I said,” said Scott, who made a failed run against Trump in the 2024 primaries, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I know that the American people, their voices will be heard, and I believe that President Trump will be our next president. It’s that simple.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) this week refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the 2024 election. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) this week refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the 2024 election. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
via Associated Press

Prior to dropping out of the presidential race, the South Carolina Republican had previously defended Pence for certifying the 2020 election. When asked at a GOP primary debate last year whether Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6, Scott said he “absolutely” did.

Vance also defended Trump’s claim to “absolute immunity” from prosecution during a combative interview on CNN — an argument that would essentially put the ex-president above the law.

Rubio, who Trump once derided as “Little Marco,” faces a key hurdle to getting the job: The Constitution states that electors in the Electoral College may not cast votes for both a president and vice president from their own state. Since Trump is also a resident of Florida, and since Republicans don’t want to cede a crucial swing state to Joe Biden in the 2024 election, either Rubio or Trump would have to change their residency before the election. And it almost certainly won’t be Trump.

Noem, meanwhile, continued to make the rounds promoting her book on cable news programs this week, drawing fire from all sides for dodging questions about both her dog and her telling of a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that never happened.

Trump allies scratched their heads at Noem’s decision to write a tell-all memoir that volunteered so much damaging information — but they maintained getting on TV to fight with the press and defend Trump was a good way to stand out.

“I think it’s important he sees you in action and how well you do in front of the public,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told HuffPost, when asked what criteria would help prospective VP candidates.

“He’s finding out that having multiple people vying for the job means that he’s got a lot of proxies out there promoting his message,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) added of Trump.

Democrats lamented the GOP’s subservience to the ex-president, calling the jockeying to be his vice presidential pick another embarrassing display of sycophancy.

“It’s a cult,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “Logic doesn’t prevail in a cult. You just want to get as close to the leaders as you can. That’s what every day is about. How many invites do I get to Mar-a-Lago? How many phone calls do I get from him? Does he look at me kindly? That’s all that matters.”

Whoever Trump picks for vice president this time around will likely be more aligned with than Pence on talking points about the 2020 presidential election and his false claims of fraud. Trump has made glorifying the Jan. 6 attack on Congress a cornerstone of his campaign, embracing rioters as heroes and saluting them at his campaign events. Another contested election could play out similarly, given Trump could face prison time if he is not elected president.

“Most of the people who he would seriously consider to be VP will do whatever he asks, so they won’t have that conflict this time,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said when asked why anyone would want to be Trump’s running mate, given what happened with Pence.

“Would they volunteer to put their heads into a loop?” a reporter asked.

“Absolutely,” he responded.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) warned against joining the ticket, pointing to former Trump backers, including some former top Trump administration officials, who have since offered strong criticism of the former president.

“History has a very profound lesson about the people who become associated with Donald Trump, which is it ends badly,” Blumenthal said. “There is virtually no one that has escaped the Trump gravity for malign impact on their lives. Even when they sought to disassociate themselves from [him], they’ve still been tarred in some way. There’s some good people who found out the hard way that Donald Trump is toxic.”


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