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National Review
National Review
24 Feb 2024
Audrey Fahlberg

NextImg:At CPAC, the Veepstakes Are On

Oxon Hill, Maryland — When trying to get someone’s attention in either public or in private, one psychological trick can come in handy: invoking the person’s name on repeat.

House GOP conference chair and vice-presidential hopeful Elise Stefanik certainly took that advice to heart onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday afternoon, when the moderate-turned-MAGA darling mentioned former President Donald Trump by name nearly two dozen times within the span of 18 minutes.

“I’m proud to be the first member of Congress to endorse President Trump for reelection,” a beaming Stefanik told the crowd, a few minutes after a teaser trailer hyping her speech featured a series of clips of the former president praising her by name.

Wearing far more fake tan and makeup than usual, the New York congresswoman heaped praise on the president in a Friday afternoon speech that touted her MAGA bona fides and boasted about her viral takedown of two now former presidents of Ivy League schools during a congressional hearing on antisemitism on campus. Even before she hopped onstage, she posted a backstage photo on social media mimicking the GOP front-runner’s characteristic thumbs-up pose.

But the ambitious No. 4 House GOP leader faces stiff competition in her bid to become Trump’s running mate. Speaking with Fox News earlier this week, the likely 2024 GOP nominee confirmed a half dozen rising GOP stars are on his vice-presidential shortlist: South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, ex-pharmaceutical CEO Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, Florida congressman Byron Donalds, and Democrat-turned-Independent former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

It’s entirely possible that none of the individuals on that list will end up as vice president, though any ounce of encouragement from the likely 2024 nominee feeds their egos.

“I was one of the first people to endorse Donald J. Trump,” the South Dakota governor told CPAC attendees Friday afternoon at Gaylord National Harbor. “Last year, when everyone was asking me if I was going to consider running for president, I said no. Why would you run for president if you can’t win? I didn’t say that to be nice. I said it because it was a fact.”

The party has known for “over a year” that only Trump could win the nomination, Noem told the audience at this weekend’s annual gathering of conservatives just outside Washington, D.C., before taking a swipe at other vice-presidential hopefuls who ended up challenging him for the nomination this cycle.

“So why did all these other people and candidates get into the race? For themselves? For personal benefit? For a spotlight for a period of time?” Noem said. “President Trump — he broke politics in 2016. He just did. And I think that’s a good thing. Because he’s real. He’s not perfect. None of us are. But he cares about you. And what I love about him the most is that he doesn’t think he’s better than you.”

Given Trump’s de facto incumbent status and the non-competitive nature of this year’s GOP presidential primary, speculation about his running mate is already running rampant long before delegates are set to gather for the party’s July convention in Milwaukee. It’s possible he may drag out the excitement for a few more months. (Back in 2016, Trump waited until July to announce he’d tapped Mike Pence as his running mate.)

Other names that may end up on on Trump’s 2024 VP or cabinet-member shortlist include his former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ohio senator J. D. Vance, Florida senator Marco Rubio, Alabama senator Katie Britt, and his former Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson, to name a few.

South Carolina senator and ex-presidential candidate Tim Scott spent the weekend stumping for Trump in Scott’s home state ahead of today’s Palmetto State primary, the fourth early-state contest where the former president is expected to trounce Nikki Haley. Scott dropped out of the presidential race in November and later endorsed Trump over Haley, who first appointed him to the Senate in 2012 when she was governor. Scott’s decision to rally alongside Trump seemed to pay some dividends for his Trump-world political prospects Friday evening, when the former president called him “the greatest surrogate I’ve ever seen,” while also poking fun at him for his lackluster presidential campaign. “He’s a much better representative for me than he is a representative for himself.”

In a free-wheeling CPAC speech Saturday afternoon, Trump made no mention of Haley and instead spent an hour and a half railing against the “rigged” state of the country under “Crooked Joe Biden” — yet another sign he’s transitioning into general-election mode before he’s formally secured the GOP nomination.

Shortly after his speech, the conference announced the results of its vice-presidential straw poll of 17 contenders: a tie between Noem and Ramaswamy. Tough luck for Stefanik, who came in third after second-place finisher Gabbard.