Trump Suggests GOP Primary Debate Could Decide His 2024 Running Mate

Former President Donald Trump has cast the upcoming Republican party’s presidential debates as a contest for second place in the party primary, with the winner potentially getting to be his 2024 running mate.
Trump Suggests GOP Primary Debate Could Decide His 2024 Running Mate
Former president Donald Trump enters Erie Insurance Arena for a political rally while campaigning for the GOP nomination in the 2024 election, in Erie, Pa., on July 29, 2023. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Ryan Morgan

Former President Donald Trump has cast the upcoming Republican party’s presidential debates as a contest for second place in the party primary, with the winner potentially getting to be his 2024 running mate.

Mr. Trump, who has opened up a wide lead in the RealClearPolitics Republican presidential primary polling average, has repeatedly suggested he sees no need to debate the other Republican candidates in the primary field. Mr. Trump still hasn’t said whether he will attend the first Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23, but encouraged the rest of the field to duke it out in a Monday post on his Truth social media account.

“Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!” Mr. Trump wrote on Monday.

The former Republican president holds the support of 54 percent of Republican primary voters in the latest RCP polling average. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds the second place spot in the polling average, still trailing by more than 35 points on average. Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has taken the third place position at 4.9 percent in the RCP average, overtaking Mr. Trump’s 2016 and 2020 running mate, former Vice President Mike Pence.

At a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, July 29, Mr. Trump suggested he stands little to gain even if he performs well at the debate. He said he mostly stands to be “abused” with “terrible questions” from the other candidates and from Fox News, which is set to host the first debate and which Mr. Trump has said has been a “hostile network” toward him.

“If I agree to do the debates I get hit by a hostile network, but I also get hit by all these guys—and they are professional politicians, I mean they’re not stupid people, they just happen to be at zero—and they say, ‘What about this, President Trump? What about this?’ And I look at the guy and say, ‘You’re at zero, you’re asking me these questions,’” Mr. Trump said.

The former president eventually put the debate question to his rallygoers, many of whom shouted “no” when he asked if he should attend.

While Mr. Trump leads in the polls, he’s facing several criminal charges that could upend his campaign, including federal charges for mishandling classified documents. Mr. Trump has characterized the classified documents case as an act of election interference by President Joe Biden and his Department of Justice. Mr. Trump’s trial in the classified documents case is set to begin in May of next year, well into the primary election process.

Debate Requirements

In order to qualify for the first debate, the Republican National Committee is requiring candidates to poll at least 1 percent in three national polls, or poll at least 1 percent in two national polls and at least 1 percent in two of the four early voting states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina. Candidates must also have at least 40,000 unique donors, with at least 200 donors per state in 20 states or territories. Lastly, candidates must sign a pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee if they do not win the primary contest.

As of Sunday, Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy have qualified for the first debate, as has Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), former Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Republican South Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Mr. Pence has met the polling criteria but has yet to reach the donor criteria. Former Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has also met the polling requirement, but not the donor requirement. Republican Miami Mayor Francis Saurez, businessman Perry Johnson, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, and former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) are also still working to qualify for the first debate.

DeSantis, Ramaswamy Not Interested in VP Job

Even if Mr. Trump’s comments about using the Republican debate to pick a running mate were taken at face value, Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy have already indicated they’re not interested in the opportunity.

“I don’t think I’m a No. 2 guy. I think I’m a leader, governor of Florida. I’ve accomplished a lot,” Mr. DeSantis said in an interview with the Wisconsin Right Now podcast earlier this month. “I think I could do more staying there than being VP, which doesn’t really have any authority.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly jabbed at Mr. DeSantis so far in the primary cycle, calling him “DeSanctus” and “DeSanctimonous.” The former president has also taken credit for Mr. DeSantis gaining his governorship in Florida and has described Mr. DeSantis as “disloyal.” Mr. DeSantis has, in turn, claimed Mr. Trump has moved to the left on issues like federal spending, abortion, and crime and now only gives lip service to his “America First” agenda.

Mr. Ramaswamy has also indicated he’s not interested in holding out for a job in a future Trump administration

“I will be helpful to this country in whatever way I can, but I would not be No. 2 or member of an administration,“ Mr. Ramaswamy said in a July 13 interview on the Clay & Buck Show podcast. ”I just don’t think that’s the right way for me to make the maximal positive impact on this country.”

Mr. Trump has indicated he’s amenable to bringing on Mr. Scott in some form in a future administration.

“Tim is very good,” Mr. Trump said in a July 16 interview with Fox News. “I mean, I could see Tim doing something with the administration, but he’s right now campaigning, and I’m sure Tim and everybody else would say I’m only interested in one [position], but Tim is a very talented guy and you have other very talented people.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.