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Nikki Haley is the clear choice for Trump’s VP pick. So I’m sure he’ll go full MAGA.

In recent weeks, varying media sites have been putting out short lists for Donald Trump’s VP choice. Names like Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida and Elise Stefanik of New York have gotten much attention as potential successors to the MAGA movement and possible Trump vice presidential pick.

Trump has a couple of options. He could pander to potential voters by picking a candidate who appeals to a certain regional or demographic group. Or he could pander directly to his followers by choosing the candidate most aligned with his ideals to preserve the MAGA legacy beyond his final term in office.

Trump’s reported short list features mostly MAGA candidates and has sparked tremendous interest as we head toward the Republican National Convention next month. Now we are waiting for the name and the type of politician Trump will choose as his running mate.

Moderates could decide the election. Trump needs to think about them.

President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the United Nations, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, at the U.N. headquarters in New York City in 2017.
President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the United Nations, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, at the U.N. headquarters in New York City in 2017.

I believe that Trump’s best choice is to pick somebody who can make voting for him more palatable. Moderates who dislike President Joe Biden but are turned off by the Trump persona could be a deciding force in the election.

Trump could foreseeably bring in a portion of these sympathetic voters who are reluctant to vote for him as it stands and need somebody else to root for on the ticket.

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Nearly 1 in 5 Republican primary voters in many states continued to vote against Trump even after he was the sole candidate in the race. These protest votes could be a signal of voters who fall under the conservative umbrella but will refuse to show up for Trump on Election Day.

At the same time, these are probably the easiest voters to persuade to support a second Trump presidency, and it could be by something as simple as the right VP choice.

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The obvious choice for Trump and Republicans has been there all along

Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former South Carolina governor, put up respectable numbers in the GOP primary, even after she dropped out.

Although she ultimately came up short, she won Vermont and Washington, D.C., while putting up a staunch fight in states like South Carolina and New Hampshire. While Trump’s performance in the primary was nothing short of dominant, Haley’s performance proves that her vein of GOP voters are willing to use their voice.

Nikki Haley, former Republican candidate for president and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visits on May 27, 2024, the site of the Israeli music festival that Hamas terrorists attacked on Oct. 7, 2023, with gunfire, grenades and rockets – killing hundreds.
Nikki Haley, former Republican candidate for president and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visits on May 27, 2024, the site of the Israeli music festival that Hamas terrorists attacked on Oct. 7, 2023, with gunfire, grenades and rockets – killing hundreds.

This means that Haley, as the vice president pick, would give Trump the best path forward. A Trump-Haley ticket would represent an olive branch extended between the two factions of the GOP at war with each other. Trump’s populist base would certainly take issue with it, but his supporters won’t let any VP choice stand in the way of their vote for him.

Sadly, Haley’s name has seemingly been excluded from the publicly circulated short lists. Given the hostility that her rivalry with Trump brought about in the primary, the Republican presumptive nominee may be reluctant to choose her.

Trump is a horrible choice without somebody like Nikki Haley

Trump is the most controversial nominee choice for the GOP to have, and that scares moderates. In 2020, moderates broke for Biden, with 62% helping propel him to the White House.

While the economic attitude of the country is certain to help Trump close that gap, he has other concerns.

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Now a convicted felon, Trump has a new struggle among the center of American voters. More than 20% of moderates, as well as 1 in 10 Republicans, have said that they are less likely to vote for him after a jury found him guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump as an alternative to Biden may be a no-brainer for most GOP voters, but for those on the fence, something as simple as a reasonable VP choice could be a deciding factor. Haley could help Trump.

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Trump’s VP shortlist doesn’t make him more palatable to voters

Instead, the best moderate option on Trump’s short list appears to be South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. He is a proven legislator, having served in both the House and Senate, and is less extreme on topics that moderate voters might care about.

Scott has the added benefit of being a Black conservative, allowing Trump to parry many of the attacks GOP campaigns face on racial issues. Scott is a quality choice for vice president, especially when you compare him with others.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., campaigns for former President Donald Trump on Feb. 23, 2024, in Rock Hill.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., campaigns for former President Donald Trump on Feb. 23, 2024, in Rock Hill.

The alternatives on the short list are far more concerning:

  • Vance is an inexperienced Ohio senator who willfully departed from conservative principles on economics and foreign policy, favoring Trump’s brand of “America First” populism over a more disciplined approach.
  • Donalds, seemingly one of the heirs to the MAGA movement, has only been in the House of Representatives for three years and is best known for his role in the House speakership fiasco last year.
  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who once was a forefront member of the GOP, long ago bent the knee to Trump to salvage his political career after a brutal 2016 primary race.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a relatively politically inexperienced businessman who is difficult to pinpoint on many major issues, positions himself as a milquetoast and inoffensive pick.
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Any of these choices would be great if Trump wants a “yes-man,” but they would do a great disservice to the American people.

Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, addresses the conservative Turning Point Action on June 16, 2024, in Detroit.
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, addresses the conservative Turning Point Action on June 16, 2024, in Detroit.

Sadly, Trump may not feel he needs to pick a moderate candidate in order to win, which is the only thing he truly cares about. He is the favorite in polling over Biden, albeit by a slimmer margin than conservatives would like to portray. And we still have months before the election.

However, if he truly does care for the state of the Republican Party, bringing a more principled conservative to the White House at his side could do wonders for Trump’s ability to bring the party closer together. Though that is a task Trump is almost certain to fail at.

Picking a MAGA successor like Vance is a sure way to tear the GOP apart even more.

Dace Potas is an Opinion fellow for USA TODAY. A graduate from DePaul University with a degree in political science, he’s also president of the Lone Conservative, the largest conservative student-run publication in the country.

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