Trump in no hurry as he leans into the pageantry of vice presidential tryouts

NEW YORK (AP) — As former President Donald Trump remains stuck in the courtroom listening to salacious details of an affair he denies, another spectacle is playing out in the background as his vice presidential tryouts get underway.

The dynamic was on full display over the weekend at a closed-door fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago club that doubled as an audition featuring a long list of potential running mates. Trump, at one point, invited many of the contenders on stage like contestants in one of his old beauty pageants. The next day several of them, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, South Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ohio Sen. Marco Rubio and New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, fanned out across Sunday news shows to sing his praises.

“This weekend, we had 15 people. … They’re all out there campaigning,” Trump told Spectrum News 1 Wisconsin on Tuesday. “It might actually be more effective this way because, you know, every one of them thinks they could be chosen, which I guess possibly is so.”

The comments demonstrate why Trump is in no rush to pick his potential second-in-command or publicly winnow his choices. For now, the presumptive GOP nominee is happy to revel in the attention as reporters parse his choices and prospective candidates jockey and woo him in an “Apprentice”-style competition.

Trump has said he intends to make an announcement shortly before July’s Republican National Convention, as he did when he picked then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in 2016.

“In the end, it’s up to him. He will intuitively decide who should be his vice president, and he’ll listen to everybody up until that moment and then he’ll decide,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of three finalists on Trump’s 2016 list.

For candidates, he said, if Trump calls and asks them to speak at a rally, “The correct answer’s ‘yes.’” But there are limits to their impact.

“Some of them try to audition,” Gingrich said, “but I never thought it worked that well.”

For now, according to several people familiar with his thinking, Trump continues to mull a long list of prospects: governors, senators and members of Congress, including some who ran against him and lost. The people spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the fundraiser and private conversations. As Trump mulls his decision, he is watching to see who can raise money, defend him effectively, and perform at political events. He’s especially interested in how they come across on television.

Part of what seems to have made the decision harder is that many of the candidates under serious consideration have knocks against them.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one potential top contender, could help Trump win over Hispanic voters as well as establishment donors still leery of a second Trump term. But Rubio has a problem: He lives in Florida, the same state as Trump, which would violate the Constitution’s Twelfth Amendment.

Trump himself has raised the issue, including at Saturday’s fundraising luncheon, where he said he liked Rubio, according to one of several people present, but noted the issue with his residency, calling it a problem.

Ohio Sen. JD Vance, a friend of Trump’s eldest son who has become close with the former president, is also considered a top contender. He impressed Trump allies with a CNN interview last week.

But Trump continues to note that Vance was a critic before he became a supporter — something he mentioned again at the Saturday event before praising Vance as a great senator.

Scott, whom Trump has repeatedly joked is a far better surrogate than a candidate, also has drawbacks. Scott pushed Trump to back a 15-week national abortion ban during the GOP primaries and his selection would draw new attention to something Trump has tried to eliminate as a campaign issue by insisting it should be left to the states.

Those issues could help a candidate like Burgum, a billionaire who has traveled extensively with Trump since he dropped his own presidential bid.

Others have seemed to test the limits of what it takes to be disqualified.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has faced a media storm since reports emerged that she she wrote about shooting a family dog to death in a book released this week. Noem has also been caught in errors, including falsely claiming that she once met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. She has continued to appear in interviews defending her actions, drawing the storyline out for days.

Trump, in his Tuesday interview, continued to praise Noem, who at one point had been considered a top contender, though he acknowledged that “she had a rough couple of days, I will say that.”

Noem’s star, in fact, had been tarnished before the revelation of her dog killing amid questions about her judgment, including her decision to appear in an infomercial-style video lavishing praise on a team of cosmetic dentists in Texas.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, meanwhile, has also been the subject of negative headlines. A recent audit suggested that her office may have broken the law when it purchased a $19,000 lectern — a scandal dubbed “lecterngate” by some.

Sanders, who served as Trump’s press secretary at the White House, responded with Trumpian defiance, posting a 20-second video on X featuring the blue and wood-paneled lectern. The opening lyrics of Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” played in the background and the words “come and take it” appeared on the screen.

Sanders may still face more questions, with an audit of her travel and security records pending. But her unapologetic response reinforced her image as an acolyte of the Trump brand.

“In the Trump era, what used to be a scandal is no longer a scandal and what used to be seen as a liability is not really as much of a liability,” said Kevin Madden, who was a senior adviser to former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “Trump has an ability to block out the sun.”

Provocative comments that could have been a liability in past election cycles could also be assets for candidates like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has urged the public to “take matters into your own hands” if they encounter pro-Palestinian protesters blocking traffic.

“Anyone claiming to know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying, unless the person is named Donald J. Trump,” senior campaign advisor Brian Hughes said in an emailed statement.

Trump continues to maintain publicly and privately that the “most important thing” in a potential pick is whether they would be a good president if called upon — and that he doesn’t think the choice is likely to change the trajectory of the race.

“VPs have never really helped in the election process,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a one-day story, it’s a big story, and then it’s back to work. They want to really know who’s No. 1 on the ticket.” ___

Mascaro reported from Washington and DeMillo from Little Rock, Arkansas.

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