4 weeks ago

Trump zeroes in on his VP finalists: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, we report on the final stages of Donald Trump's VP search. Plus, chief White House correspondent Peter Alexander looks back to last debate between Trump and Joe Biden more than 1,300 days ago for clues about the next one.

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Trump zeroes in on his VP finalists

By Henry J. Gomez, Jonathan Allen, Dasha Burns, Carol E. Lee, Matt Dixon and Olympia Sonnier

Two top finalists are emerging in former President Donald Trump’s search for a running mate: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. JD Vance of Ohio.

In interviews with NBC News, more than a dozen sources wired into the process described an intensifying debate over the strengths and weaknesses each candidate would bring to the ticket.

A third prospect, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, remains in contention, sources said. But doubts about his enthusiasm for the job and concerns about navigating a constitutional hang-up that would require Trump or Rubio to establish residency in another state have persisted in ways that could jeopardize his chances.

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Publicly, Trump has said he expects to announce his choice closer to, or at, the Republican National Convention, which begins July 15 in Milwaukee. But three sources familiar with discussions said timing remains a topic of debate.

One option is for Trump to announce days earlier — immediately after his July 11 sentencing on 34 felony counts — in an effort to quickly move past a damaging news cycle.

A source said, however, the pick could also come before the sentencing in an attempt to generate a fundraising windfall that’s divorced from Trump’s sentencing or the convention, both of which his allies expect to drive significant donations. Another source said that scenario was unlikely out of fear that his legal troubles would quickly drown out any news bounce from his running-mate reveal.

The campaign’s VP deliberations have been closely guarded and, given Trump’s love for the element of surprise, could veer abruptly in other directions.

Internally, a key point of tension and indecision is balancing the desire for a running mate who is nonthreatening against the desire for someone who also can be considered the future of Trump’s movement, a source familiar with the search said. That tension, the source added, runs throughout the campaign, including with Trump.

Read more on Trump’s VP search →

What we learned from the last Biden-Trump debate

By Peter Alexander

It’s been more than 1,300 days since the last debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump — and the last time either man appeared on a debate stage.

Usually, it’s the sitting president who faces a disadvantage at general election debates, as they aren’t used to being attacked face-to-face.

But both Biden and Trump have the same challenge for Thursday’s showdown in Atlanta: Neither has debated in four years, though both have had plenty of experience in primary and general election debates over the past two decades (2008, 2012 and 2020 for Biden; 2016 and 2020 for Trump).

So what did we learn from that last debate, moderated by my colleague Kristen Welker, back on Oct. 22, 2020?

1. Covid dominated: It’s become easy to forget, since it’s now disappeared as a national storyline, but the topic of Covid dominated the opening minutes of that debate — given the deaths, hospitalizations and the coming vaccine.

“We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready. It’s going to be announced within weeks, and it’s going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military, is going to distribute the vaccine,” Trump said in his opening remarks.

Biden countered: “220,000 Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control — in fact, ... saying, ‘I take no responsibility,’ initially — anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”

2. It was more civil than the first one: The first 2020 debate — moderated by Chris Wallace, then of Fox News — was full of interruptions and insults.

But the second one was much more civil. One reason why: The Commission on Presidential Debates muted the candidates’ microphones during the two-minute opening remarks for each issue section. (Another reason why: Welker did a masterful job moderating.)

While the microphones were reopened after those opening remarks, the candidates largely refrained from interrupting each other. And with the microphones set to be turned off for the candidate not speaking at the upcoming debate, that second 2020 debate could be a preview of what we might see Thursday night.

“I want to open the schools,” Trump said in response to a question on whether schools should be open during the coronavirus pandemic. “We have to open our country. You know I’ve said it often — the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself, and that’s what’s happening, and [Biden] wants to close down. He’ll close down the country if one person … in our massive bureaucracy says we should close it down.”

Asked for his response, Biden said: “Simply not true. We’re gonna be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We ought to be able to safely open, but they need resources to open.”

3. Biden consistently tried to bait Trump: Biden took numerous opportunities to get under Trump’s skin — just like Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 debates.

“This is the same fellow who told you this is going to end by Easter last time. This [is] the same fellow who told you that, don’t worry, we’re going to end this by the summer,” Biden said regarding Covid.

And here was Biden on Trump’s taxes: “You have not released a single solitary year of your tax return. What are you hiding? Why are you unwilling?”

4. When attacked, Trump hit back: And every time Biden baited Trump, the then-president hit back.

“I mean, your brother made money in Iraq, millions of dollars. Your other brother made a fortune, and it’s all through you, Joe. And they say you get some of it. And you do live very well. You have houses all over the place. You live very well,” Trump said during the exchange on taxes.

And here was Trump’s response to Biden attacking him on his handling of Covid: Biden “ran the H1N1 swine flu, and it was a total disaster. Far less lethal. But it was a total disaster.”

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at [email protected]

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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