As convention inches closer, Trump holds rally in Miami amid growing VP speculation

Throughout the week of the presidential debate, some members of former President Donald Trump’s team were already beginning to focus on another potentially big race-defining event: the roll out of his vice-presidential pick.

There are not signs and merchandise featuring the names of Trump’s potential contenders sitting in a warehouse waiting to be shared with his supporters. Any plotting of the potential announcement or rollout has been handled with enormous secrecy so as not to tip off speculation about the selection.

But last week, aides and production staff were sent to Trump’s Doral resort in Miami to build out a space for a rally scheduled for July 9. The timing and proximity of the rally to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s home – sure to ignite predictions about Trump’s selection – was purely coincidental, sources familiar with the event planning told CNN. Rubio, along with Ohio Sen. JD Vance and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, sit atop Trump’s shortlist for the job.

Still, among staff and allies, speculation has raged as to whether the Miami event would feature Trump’s long-awaited announcement. And even those closest to the former president continue to insist they are in the dark as to who his ultimate choice will be.

Advisers stressed that regardless of the planning around events, the former president would have the final word on where and when his vice presidential pick would be announced. Trump has given himself until the Republican convention in Milwaukee later this month to make a pick and recently told a Virginia television station he will be “making a decision sometime early convention or before convention.”

“As President Trump has said himself, the top criteria in selecting a Vice President is a strong leader who will make a great President for eight years after his next four-year term concludes. But anyone telling you they know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying unless that person is named Donald J. Trump,” Trump spokesperson Brian Hughes told CNN.

As another person close to Trump put it: “We can put whatever we want together and hand it to him on the platter and he could say no thanks. It’s not happening until it’s actually happening.”

This statement came to pass Monday, when Trump allies noted a change in posture following the debate. Two sources close to the former president said the option of Trump waiting until the convention begins to announce his choice is under consideration again.

President Joe Biden’s poor performance at Thursday’s debate has further fueled the persistent questions about his fitness for office. As the Democratic hand wringing dominates the post-debate narrative, Trump decided to spend this entire week at his Bedminster golf resort with no public appearances. Some of his campaign staff was told – to their surprise – that they should enjoy the 4th of July weekend.

VP jockeying

Meanwhile, the jockeying to join Trump on the ticket has continued, unabated by the debate fallout.

Advocates for Rubio were casting doubt on Burgum, and flagging that Burgum’s record on abortion would bring the issue, which Trump has tried to separate himself from, back into the spotlight.

Vance and Rubio, meanwhile, are friends in the Senate, though that hasn’t stopped supporters of each VP candidate from pushing negative attacks against the other.

Allies of Vance have been continuing to promote Vance’s ability to carry the MAGA torch, though some opposed to the Ohio senator also argue that his image as a Trump standard bearer, in addition to his youth, could work against him.

Some Trump allies have also sought to emphasize that Trump and Rubio don’t get along as well, in comparison to the former president’s relationships with Burgum and Vance. They’ve also been quick to point out the areas in which the two are out of step, including on some foreign policy areas and “deep state” issues, as one person close to Trump phrased it.

One Trump confidante told CNN he expects the former president’s team is preparing for the unlikely scenario Biden exits the race – an outcome that, however unlikely, could spark new considerations for his running mate.

“I’d drag this out for two weeks,” the confidante told CNN. “Let Biden twist.”

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