What Trump sees in Doug Burgum for veep

By Daniel McCarthy

Donald Trump knows how to run a talent show.

He’s built a career out of them – in addition to careers as real estate mogul and president of the United States.

What he learned from Miss Universe beauty pageants and the breakout success of “The Apprentice” he’s now applying to the tryouts for vice president.

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No one watches if competition isn’t tense:

Contestants all need a moment to shine, even if their chances are dim.

Dark horses make a good storyline – underdogs an even better one.

So now the spotlight turns to a contender nobody would have guessed would be under serious consideration: the governor of North Dakota.

Who?

Is that the one who shot the dog?

No, that’s Kristi Noem, governor of the other Dakota.

And her hopes are as dead as that poor pooch.

The governor on the rise is Doug Burgum.

Who – or rather, why?

Burgum ran for president last year and participated in the Trumpless Republican debates nobody watched.

He had so little support he offered $20 gift cards for $1 donations just to keep up his donor numbers to qualify for the debates.

He dropped out when even that wouldn’t cut it anymore.

Burgum’s unknown to anyone but nerds and North Dakotans, and his state isn’t in danger of defecting to Joe Biden.

If Tim Scott or Marco Rubio might just help Trump with black or Latino voters, or a woman might get more women to vote Republican, what does Burgum bring?

Ohio is safely red, but Sen. J.D. Vance reinforces Trump’s populist rhetoric and could boost him in rust-belt battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

But Doug Burgum?

Yet he’s getting an audition – even a push, appearing alongside Trump at a huge New Jersey rally last Saturday.

Trump sees personal, ideological and financial angles to the North Dakota governor.

The last is most obvious: Burgum is rich in his own right and does more for the ticket’s bottom line than any other VP contender.

It’s hard to know just how rich the governor is, but the most modest estimates put him above $100 million, and he could easily be worth many times that.

Trump was outspent in 2016 and 2020, and Biden’s fundraising has far outpaced his this cycle.

The endless civil suits and criminal cases lodged against Trump haven’t torpedoed his polling, but they’ve drained him of dollars his election effort can’t spare.

Burgum wouldn’t be the first running mate added to a ticket for the millions he can personally contribute:

The Libertarian Party nominated the billionaire David Koch for vice president in 1980, hoping his money would propel presidential nominee Ed Clark to victory, or at least a respectable showing.

That hope was in vain: neither Ronald Reagan nor Jimmy Carter, nor the electorate, took notice of the Clark-Koch ticket, which won about 1% of the popular vote.

This year another contender outside the two-party system, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is pursuing a similar strategy.

His running mate, Nicole Shanahan, the ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is estimated to be worth several hundred million dollars – not enough to buy the election but plenty to help an independent like RFK over the costly hurdles involved in getting ballot access.

Do Burgum’s bucks bring enough bang for Trump?

The ideological rationale for considering the governor is simply that he reassures the GOP’s capitalist wing, which is troubled by Trump’s populist tendencies and extravagant personality.

Eight years ago, Trump picked Mike Pence to cement the loyalty of evangelicals and old-guard conservatives who’d had reservations about the New York tycoon throughout the primaries – Republicans more excited by Ted Cruz than Trump.

Today Trump expects enthusiastic evangelical turnout.

So he might look to secure his flank on the other side of the party, with libertarian-minded and business-oriented Republicans.

And on a personal level, Trump likes old-fashioned archetypes of executive authority – military men and corporate leaders, like his ill-fated first secretary of state, the ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Trump’s an impresario, but when the cameras are off, he wants to be surrounded by suits and uniforms, not wannabe celebrities.

Burgum’s a vice president for corporate America; Trump’s the only star his administration needs, as far as the man at the top is concerned.

Even so, Burgum probably won’t be Trump’s pick.

Yet he’s plausible enough to extend the season an episode or two.

The contest isn’t really about the contestants anyway; it’s about investing the audience in the drama of choosing and the man making the choice.

Every hopeful gets his or her moment, but the hour belongs to Trump.

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