Trump’s VP pageant has an unexpectedly strong contender: Tom Cotton

Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, right, listens as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) speaks during a campaign stop in Carrollton, Ga, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has unexpectedly emerged as a top contender to become Donald Trump’s running mate, a signal that the former president is heavily weighing experience and the ability to run a disciplined campaign over other factors.

Cotton’s ascendance comes as Trump’s leading vice-presidential options have increasingly come into focus, according to three people with direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking who insisted on anonymity to discuss private meetings.


These people said Trump’s other current favorites were Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and three of Cotton’s Senate colleagues: Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and JD Vance of Ohio. The former president has also discussed the five Republican men as potential candidates for administration posts if he were to unseat President Joe Biden in November.

Still, the people close to Trump cautioned that his vice-presidential preferences might change. The former president declined to reveal his leading candidates in an interview Thursday with News 12, but mentioned Rubio and Vance as well as Ben Carson, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York as examples of people “who would do a really fantastic job.”

But his current list of top five picks reflects Trump’s desire to choose a running mate who would carry relatively little risk of creating unwanted distractions for a presidential campaign already facing multiple legal threats.

Trump’s interest in Cotton, who won a second term in the Senate in 2020, reflects this do-no-harm mentality.

The former president has said privately that he views Cotton as a reliable and effective communicator in cable news interviews. Trump has also praised Cotton’s Army service, which included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the fact that he is a fellow Ivy League graduate. Trump went to the University of Pennsylvania, and Cotton attended Harvard University, earning undergraduate and law degrees.

A spokesperson for Cotton declined to comment. When asked about serving in a second Trump administration, the senator has said that his discussions with the former president have focused on how to win a second term.

“I suspect only Donald Trump knows who is really on his shortlist,” Cotton said Monday on Fox News. “When we do talk, we talk about what it’s going to take to win this election in November — to elect President Trump to another term in the White House and elect a Republican Congress, so we can begin to repair the damage that Joe Biden’s presidency has inflicted on this country.” Of course, Trump can be unpredictable.

One person close to him said the former president had not indicated a particular favorite or shown outsize interest in anyone in his top tier. That could suggest a desire by Trump to play his cards close to his vest but could also signal an opening for another contender to swoop in and secure the second spot on the ticket.

Trump appears in no hurry to make his decision. In an interview this month with Fox6 News Milwaukee, he said that he was likely to make his choice closer to the Republican National Convention, scheduled to start July 15.

“I’ll be picking, but probably not too much before the convention,” Trump said.

Cotton has long been considered one of the party’s rising stars, ambition that could hurt his chances with Trump, who has undermined allies in the past when he perceived them to be intruding on his spotlight.

Cotton also voted to certify the results of the 2020 presidential race, a move that flew in the face of Trump’s insistence that the election was stolen. But Rubio and Scott also voted to certify the results, and Burgum has said that former Vice President Mike Pence did the right thing by resisting Trump’s pressure to try to overturn the results.

Still, Trump has spoken highly of Cotton for years. After winning the White House in 2016, Trump considered the senator for an administration post, and the two men fostered a close relationship during their time in Washington. They worked closely on immigration issues and shared an affinity for the conservative populism fueling the Republican Party.

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