CPAC’s Top Picks for Trump’s VP Revealed

Attendees overwhelmingly supported President Trump over fellow Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
CPAC’s Top Picks for Trump’s VP Revealed
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at CPAC at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 24, 2024. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Samantha Flom
Joseph Lord

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were the top picks for the Republican vice presidential spot in a straw poll conducted by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington on Feb. 24.

Conference attendees were asked to sound off on who should serve as former President Donald Trump’s running mate on the Republican ticket. The extensive list of contenders featured a host of prominent Republicans and even a couple of independents.

Ms. Noem and Mr. Ramaswamy each raked in 15 percent of the vote.

Other notables on the list included Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), and independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

But one candidate in particular stood out for her surprising popularity: 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard.

Ms. Gabbard, who represented Hawaii in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2021, came in third place with 9 percent of the vote. The former Democrat walked away from the party in 2022, stating that it was under the total control of “a cabal of elitist warmongers.” Since then, as an independent, she has shocked the nation with her rightward shift, from joining Arizona Republican Kari Lake on the campaign trail to defending President Trump at CPAC on Feb. 23.

“Her speech made me think about her differently—and I mean in a good way,” Washington native Darren Moten told The Epoch Times.

He stressed that he would need to know more about Ms. Gabbard’s stance on specific issues before he could back her as vice president. However, Mr. Moten also acknowledged that her presence on the ticket could expand President Trump’s reach.

He wasn’t the only attendee who experienced a change of heart with Ms. Gabbard.

John Leisenring of Arlington, Virginia, said he’d originally been leaning toward Ms. Noem and Ms. Stefanik. But after watching Ms. Gabbard’s CPAC speech, he said he was impressed by her “statesmanlike quality.”

Another notable outcome of the poll was where former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley finished. Although she is still holding out hope for her presidential campaign, CPAC attendees seemed less enthusiastic about her appearance on the GOP ticket in any form. With just 2 percent of the vote, Ms. Haley tied for last place with Mr. Vance.

Primary Drags On

The straw poll’s results were announced just a few hours before the polls were set to close in South Carolina’s pivotal Republican presidential primary.

Ms. Haley has promised to stay in the race no matter what Palmetto State Republicans decide. Still, the optics of a loss in a state that she used to run would speak volumes to voters across the country.

“Historically, in presidential politics, when you lose your home state, it’s time to stay home and not go on,” Republican strategist David Polyansky told ABC News on Feb. 23.

Mr. Polyansky served as Mr. DeSantis’s deputy campaign manager until he dropped out of the presidential race last month. Prior to the primary, he said that a South Carolina loss would “tremendously hurt” Ms. Haley’s political future.

“Her image overall with Republicans is actually fairly dismal and diminishing by the day,” Mr. Polyansky said.

He said that her “only hope” for success in South Carolina was to convince Democrats and independents to back her in the open primary.

“And if she continues to make the arguments that Joe Biden and Democrats are making against Donald Trump, her image is only going to sour. And after losing her home state, not only is it going to sour, it’s going to be taking her on a negative long-term trajectory for her brand,” Mr. Polyansky said.

Ms. Haley has increasingly attacked President Trump over his age, arguing that he is too old, at this point, to be president.

At 77, the former president is just four years younger than President Joe Biden, who has faced his share of bipartisan criticism over his age and mental acuity.

But as far as Trump supporter Barbara Burg is concerned, age is just a number.

“Yes, [Trump is] older. Yes, he’s almost Joe Biden’s age. But his intellect is still strong. His mind is strong,” she told The Epoch Times on Feb. 22.

That view has been echoed by President Trump himself, who maintains that President Biden is not too old to lead the country, just “grossly incompetent.”

“I have friends, Bernie Marcus, that are in their 90s, and they’re sharp as a tack,” he told SiriusXM’s “The Megyn Kelly Show” in September 2023.

“They’re just, I mean, I would say just about what they used to be. No, not old. [Biden’s] incompetent.”

‘The Math Is Challenging’

Despite Ms. Haley’s attacks, the Trump campaign has appeared unconcerned with the former U.N. ambassador as of late, opting instead to focus on the general election in November.

“The primary ends tonight, and it is time to turn to the general election so we can defeat Crooked Joe and end his assault on the American people,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said ahead of the former president’s CPAC speech.

His comments followed Trump campaign press secretary Karoline Leavitt’s prediction of a “big loss” for Ms. Haley in South Carolina.

“At this point, it really is mathematically impossible for Nikki Haley to catch up,” Ms. Leavitt told Fox Business on Feb. 23.

Ms. Haley’s campaign has acknowledged as much. On a call with media outlets earlier that day, Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankeny admitted that “the math is challenging” for her candidate.

“But this has never just been about who can win a Republican primary. This battle is about who can win in November, defeat the Democrats, and finally get our country back on track,” Ms. Ankeny said.

She suggested that the GOP’s recent election disappointments, such as the loss of the seat formerly held by ousted Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) to Democrat Tom Suozzi, were a direct result of President Trump’s influence over the party. And those who think that he can beat President Biden in November, Ms. Ankeny said, are fooling themselves.

“How is Trump going to win a general election when all the polls and all the history and all the antics indicate that he clearly cannot?” she asked. “So again, we know the odds here, but this is about winning a general election, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Samantha Flom is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering U.S. politics and news. A graduate of Syracuse University, she has a background in journalism and nonprofit communications. Contact her at [email protected].
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