Trump’s V.P. Pageant Has an Unexpectedly Strong Contender: Tom Cotton


Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has unexpectedly emerged as a top contender to become Donald J. 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.

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

These people said that Mr. Trump’s other current favorites were Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and three of Mr. Cotton’s Senate colleagues: Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina and J.D. 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 Biden in November.

Still, the people close to Mr. Trump cautioned that his vice-presidential preferences might change.

Taken together, the current list of top contenders reflects his 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.

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

A spokeswoman for Mr. 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 short list,” Mr. Cotton said on 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, Mr. Trump can be unpredictable.

One person close to him said that 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. Trump appears in no hurry to make his decision. In an interview early 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,” Mr. Trump said.

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

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

Still, Mr. Trump has spoken highly of Mr. Cotton for years. After winning the White House in 2016, Mr. 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.

In response to questions about Mr. Cotton’s vice-presidential prospects, Brian Hughes, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, offered a statement that the campaign has repeatedly provided to reporters: “Only President Trump will rule a contender for Vice President in or out, and anyone claiming to know who he will choose is lying.”

Mr. Cotton’s presence on a presidential ticket could help reassure Republicans in the party’s dwindling traditional wing, particularly fellow foreign-policy hawks. Many of these Republicans remain undecided about a second term for Mr. Trump and might be put off by the selection of an inexperienced MAGA loyalist.

But Mr. Cotton appears to offer limited political upside for the ticket, representing a state that reliably votes Republican in presidential contests.

He could also carry some risks. His past endorsement of a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy might hurt the ticket’s appeal to moderate voters. And his support for Mr. Trump’s push to deploy troops against protesters in 2020 could motivate liberal voters who remain unenthusiastic about Mr. Biden, but are outraged over the former president’s authoritarian inclinations, to vote for the incumbent.

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