Monday, June 17, 2024


This happened over the weekend:
Sen. J.D. Vance cemented his status as frontrunner to become Donald Trump's running mate on Sunday, coming top in a poll of attendees at Turning Point Action's People's Convention in Detroit....

When 1,986 people at the Detroit event were asked who they favored out of Vance, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sens. Marco Rubio and Tim Scott, some 43 percent said they favored senator from Ohio.

Scott was a distant second on 15.4 percent, Rubio took third with 7.7 percent, and Burgum, who in particular has been talked up by Trump in recent weeks, took seven percent.
Does that mean Trump should pick Vance? According to the conventional rules of politics, it probably means he shouldn't. Just about everyone at the Turning Point gathering is a committed Trumper. Why would Trump want a running mate who's the favorite of people who are already certain to vote for him? The way he'd gain from a running mate pick is by selecting someone who primarily appeals to voters other than his base. That would suggest someone like Scott or Rubio -- someone who's seen as a "mainstream" Republican, whatever that means these days.

(If I had to guess, I'd say that Trump will pick Burgum, just because he looks like a vice president out of "central casting," as Trump likes to say, and because he's the least likely to upstage Trump. Notice that we speculated for months about a female running mate, and now the top contenders all seem to be men. I assume that non-whites will drop out of contention in the same way, so it probably won't be Scott or Ben Carson, and possibly not Rubio, either. But who knows?)

But conventional political fundamentals aren't the main reason Trump would regret picking Vance. I think he'd regret picking Vance because Vance is far too ambitious to be a meek helpmeet like pre-January 6 Mike Pence. Trump wants a vice president who's a potted plant. I read Ross Douthat's Vance interview, which makes clear that Vance wouldn't be what Trump wants.

That's not because Vance said mean things about Trump on social media years ago. Trump likes it when people attack him and then capitulate to him -- examples include Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. What the Douthat interview makes clear is that Vance may not be ambitious in a flamboyant, spotlight-seeking way -- he's no Marjorie Taylor Greene or Vivek Ramaswamy -- but he still greatly admires himself and thinks he has all the answers. The subtext of nearly everything Vance says to Douthat is: Why yes, I have a very large brain and many highly developed ideas about politics. He comes off as a less showoffy Steve Bannon -- and remember what happened when Bannon worked in the White House. Vance is a Trump loyalist now, but I think his ultimate loyalty would be to himself.

Vance came from poverty, but he quickly figured out the point of an elite education: to seek mentors and social circles that can advance your career, then cling to them until you find someone new who can help you more. Vance has passed through one career-advancing milieu after another -- the Amy Chua/Jed Rubenfeld crowd at Yale Law, Peter Thiel's demimonde, and now the world of Trump. Before Vance became a Trumper, he was an anti-Trumper because that seemed like the path to success. Vance isn't Lindsey Graham, a lifelong sidekick who latched on to Trump only because the man for whom he'd been a sidekick, John McCain, was dead. Vance wants power of his own.

Vance, as VP, would probably be an inveterate leaker -- for career advancement, he might think it's a good idea to butter up influential journalists. Vance will probably disagree with Trump on some issues. To Douthat, Vance comes off as a hater of the elites, someone who agrees with Bernie Sanders supporters more than mainstream Republicans:
The people on the left, I would say, whose politics I’m open to — it’s the Bernie Bros. But generally, center-left liberals who are doing very well, and center-right conservatives who are doing very well, have an incredible blind spot about how much their success is built on a system that is not serving people who they should be serving.
In the interview, Vance talks about raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Does he really believe all this? I think he thinks he does. Trump, however, loves the economic elites and doesn't want to help working people. If Trump struggles in a second term for any reason, Vance might try to subvert his boss, even if he doesn't openly challenge Trump the way Bannon did in an interview with, of all publications, the liberal American Prospect, just before Trump fired him.

That didn't work out for Bannon, of course -- he's now a Trump lapdog again. But if Vance sees Trump struggling -- possibly after a strong 2026 midterm performance by the Democrats -- he really might go rogue. The Douthat interview makes clear that he has too much regard for his own ideas to be Trump's beta male for very long -- nd remember, he's only 39 years old.

Vance sees a bright future for himself. Trump shouldn't assume that Vance thinks that future will be as a lifelong MAGA loyalist.

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