Donald Trump Doesn’t Need a DEI Running Mate

Editor’s Note: The logic of group quotas is pervasive—stretching, at times, even into Republican political strategy. Frank Cannon, the founding president of American Principles Project and a leading conservative strategist, argues that the Trump campaign must resist the temptation towards a “DEI hire” vice president, both for the ticket’s political integrity and for its electoral prospects.

Donald Trump is likely still far off from announcing his vice presidential pick, but his “friends” in the party elite are already working overtime to undermine the ticket.

Republicans may give lip service to competence and merit over the equity regime, but they don’t really believe it. When they can couch it in terms of political advice, the GOP elite are every bit as woke as the Democrats. 

Every election cycle, the usual suspects crawl out of the woodwork to announce their criteria for the perfect running mate: competent, sure; helpful as a surrogate, yes; but above all, they say, the vice president must be “diverse”—which is to say, not a white man.

Just last week, The Hill quoted an anonymous GOP senator making this very case: “Even Trump is smart enough to say two white men on the Republican ticket in 2024 is a bad idea when you have really good alternatives.” Other senators agreed, and they’re not alone. This idea crops up in article after article after article.

We should remember where that logic landed Joe Biden. His diversity-first VP criteria saddled him with Kamala Harris, one of the worst vice presidents in modern history. Trump should be seeking a running mate who can contrast favorably with Kamala, rather than falling into the exact same trap.

Trump’s VP pick does, of course, need to help swing undecided voters. But, as Kamala’s poll numbers demonstrate, voters are more persuaded by competence than they are by superficial box-checking. Kamala checks multiple boxes, and everybody hates her. Meanwhile Trump has already gained so much ground among non-white voters and women, and it isn’t because they all forgot he’s a white man. The idea that voters are so stupid that they will reflexively pull the lever for whichever ticket resembles them most is both insulting and clearly disproven by the polling.

Trump should instead focus on finding someone with experience in tough campaigns, because this one is sure to be a slog. He should try to find someone with the eloquence and debating skills to serve effectively as his top surrogate, both in front of donors as well as on TV. And he should make sure his pick can wipe the floor with word-salad Kamala on the debate stage. By these criteria, Senators Marco Rubio and J.D. Vance seem like the obvious choices, though there may be others. 

Rubio and Vance both have experience winning tough races in tricky election cycles where other Republican candidates floundered. They are two of the most highly skilled orators in the party right now. It would be a joy to watch either of them go toe-to-toe with Kamala on the debate stage. They’re also both fiercely loyal to Trump while reading as cool-headed, low-drama moderates. They align with Trump’s economic philosophy—a rarity in the party that constantly tried to undermine his economic agenda during his first term. 

Yes, they are both men. Yes, only one of them (I assume) speaks Spanish. But both of them have experience in the most important thing: winning tough races. Besides, if you must know, they both did as well or better with women and non-white voters than did the other GOP state-wide “diverse” candidates in 2022.

The Republican Party needs to be the champion of competence and the opponent of race- and gender-based quotas. We should choose our leaders (or vice-leaders) based on the content of their characters and their aptitude for the job. This is already the way that normal people in the normal world operate. It is only elites in academia, business, and politics who see the world through the lens of race and sex.

Vice presidential DEI is not just a bad idea for good governance. It also clouds political judgment. This kind of analysis blinds Republican elites to the real strengths and weaknesses of candidates. 

For example, a recent article about Doug Burgum’s VP chances argued – again, quoting senators – that the pick would be surprising and perhaps unwise, given that Burgum is (you guessed it) a white man. This kind of commentary is stupid, and overshadows the substantive concerns with picking a Burgum-type; namely, his total inability to read the room politically. Recall that Burgum vetoed a women’s sports bill in deep-red North Dakota in the same year that gender issues propelled Glenn Youngkin to victory in left-leaning Virginia. Moreover, Burgum’s most distinguishing feature in the 2024 presidential primary was his avoidance of transgender issues—at the same exact time Trump’s transgender proposals are polling just as high as his super-popular immigration agenda. If Trump passes over Burgum, it should be for reasons like that rather than because of his race or sex.

GOP elites should stick to their word on DEI and just try to be normal for once. Trump should choose a running mate and vice president because he or she is good at running for office and would do the job well, not based on the false assumption that your average swing voter is as enamored with intersectionality as your average Republican senator.

Frank Cannon is founding president of American Principles Project. He is one of the social conservative movement’s premier thought leaders and the co-author of two important APP reports, The Case for Politics: Why Social Conservatives Must Invest Seriously in Politics, and Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012.