by David Silverberg
For the past month at least, there have been rumors that Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) is seeking—or is being considered—as former President Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate.
Vice presidential speculation is always a feature of presidential campaigns. It’s fun. Anyone can participate. But it usually occurs much later in a campaign, mostly around the time of a party’s national convention.
But just as hurricanes and tornadoes are occurring out of their usual seasons, so the vice presidential agitation is starting earlier this year too.
Donalds’ possibility as a candidate was heightened, if not confirmed, by a fundraising appeal he sent out on Saturday, June 24.
It was headlined: “Who should be our nominee for Vice President?”
“Friend,” it began, as do all his appeals. “There’s been a lot of talk about who should be the Republican nominee for President.”
It then proclaimed in red colors: “I’ve made my opinion clear: Donald J. Trump is the ONLY candidate who can save our country, which is why I’ve endorsed him for President of the United States.”
It continued: “However, I haven’t heard nearly as much discussion about who the Republican nominee for Vice President should be. It’s critical that the nominee is another America First warrior who will stand up to the radical Left no matter what kind of witch hunts the radical Left and the Deep State throw at the ticket.”
Who might that be?
It then invited the reader to nominate a vice presidential candidate with a link to another page. On that page the reader can participate in a vice presidential poll and write in his or her nominee—and fill out a form with one’s name and e-mail address. The poll is conducted by WinRed, a professional Republican fundraising company based in Arlington, Va.
No doubt respondents will be constantly dunned for donations until they’re in their graves and possibly beyond.
While the poll may provide some kind of rough measure of popularity and may have gone out under the names of other Republican candidates, it was especially interesting coming from Donalds.
Might Southwest Florida’s own Donalds be actively auditioning for Trump’s vice president?
And, for God’s sake, why would anyone want that job?
The 12th Amendment complication
A Donalds vice presidential candidacy could be rendered moot at the outset. There is a widespread perception that the 12th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the President and Vice President from being from the same state.
The opening lines of the Amendment are: “The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves…”
This has generally been interpreted to mean that when Electors take the separate votes for President and Vice President, the elector should not be from the same state as both of the candidates.
Put another way, a Floridian Elector could not vote for both a President and Vice President from Florida.
However, the consensus of opinion is that the Amendment does not prohibit a President and Vice President from the same state.
“This is one of those rules that many people get wrong,” wrote Kevin Wagner a constitutional scholar, and political science professor at Florida Atlantic University, in the Palm Beach Post in 2021. “There actually is nothing in the US Constitution that prevents candidates for President and Vice President who live in the same state from running together. As a practical matter, it might be a bad idea, since presidential tickets are often put together to create geographic diversity. But, having two from the same state is permissible.”
The 12th Amendment question has come up before. In 2000, both George W. Bush and his preferred vice presidential candidate, Dick Cheney, were residents of Texas. The constitutional problem was skirted when Cheney took out a Wyoming driver’s license and changed his residency to that state, which he had represented in Congress, four days before Bush named him.
In 2020 there was speculation that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might pick former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton as his running mate. However, this never materialized.
Most relevant to Florida was a 2015 fact-check of MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell by Snopes writer Jon Greenberg. At the time, there was speculation that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush might select Sen. Marco Rubio as his running mate. O’Donnell flatly stated that they could not be from the same state.
Greenberg delved into the question and rated the statement as false. But he raised other possibilities, including that state electors might cast one vote, just for the president or just for the vice president. That would make a difference only in an extremely tight race.
But then, John Harrison, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, offered a hypothetical option directly relevant to Florida.
If both the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates were from Florida, “‘The Florida Republican Party might seek an amendment to Florida law so that non-Floridians could serve as electors, and nominate a slate of, say, Georgians, who could come down for the day in December when the electors give their vote,’ Harrison suggested.
“Harrison added that the Constitution is silent about whether electors must come from the state that appoints them. Harrison acknowledges that this question could be argued (in court) either way.”
Given Florida lawmakers’ propensity for constitutional work-arounds, like legislating a loophole for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to run for president despite the state’s resign-to-run law, this is a highly plausible solution for a Trump-Donalds ticket.
What is certain is that having two candidates from the same state introduces a complicating factor that would dog a campaign and bring the legitimacy of any victory into question. One can only imagine the uproar if Trump won a second term with Donalds as his vice president.
But the 12th Amendment has another impact relevant to Trump and Donalds.
The Electors, it states, “shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;–the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”
It was this act, the opening, counting and certification of the electoral votes by the President of the Senate—i.e., the Vice President of the United States—before the assembled members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, that Donald Trump wanted Mike Pence to violate and which Pence resolutely refused to do on Jan. 6, 2021. When that didn’t work, Trump incited insurrectionary mob violence to disrupt and stop the certification. It was also this constitutional certification that Donalds attempted to stop by voting against it at the direction of Trump.
So if Donald Trump were elected President and Byron Donalds was Vice President, two men who tried to violate the Constitution and overthrow the 2020 election would be the nation’s two highest officials counting and certifying an electoral vote.
This raises another question based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
There have already been arguments whether sitting members of Congress who supported the Jan. 6 insurrection or attempted to overthrow the 2020 election are eligible for office. The question is so troublesome it has been glossed over.
But a Trump-Donalds ticket would raise it anew and give it new prominence—and urgency.
Idol and idolator
Donalds has been a Trumper since 2015. When he addressed a crowd at Trump rally at the Collier County Fairgrounds on Oct. 23, 2016, he said: “The time has come to get away from the same politicians with the same old promises and the same phrases and the same suits and the same cool hair. The time has come to make Donald Trump the next president of the United States!”
Since then he has remained consistent in his support, praise and adulation of Donald Trump, no matter what the circumstances, the issues, the scandals, the insurrection, the indictments or the arraignment.
Indeed, following his unsuccessful bids for Republican House Conference chair and Speaker of the House, Donalds has become more active and insistent on Twitter and in media of all sorts. He has spewed forth a gusher of Trumpist propaganda and talking points so rabid that they practically foam off the page. He was the first local politician to endorse Trump over DeSantis before the latter officially declared his candidacy.
In addition to fundraising and currying support with the MAGA base in his district, Donalds’ loud protestations of Trumpist loyalty seem intended to cement his relationship with Trump and deflect any charges of RINOism (Republican in Name Only), which were swirling about him in some Republican circles.
For all this, Trump has never seemed to particularly acknowledge Donalds or make him a priority. He didn’t endorse Donalds when he really needed it in his 2020 primary run; despite a general endorsement after the primary, he didn’t mention Donalds at all when he campaigned in Fort Myers during the general election campaign in October 2020, when Donalds was diagnosed with COVID and couldn’t be on stage. In December 2021 he did endorse Donalds for re-election but he didn’t endorse Donalds during his conference leadership run or his speakership bid. Often it seems that Trump looks through Donalds rather than at him.
Given the cascade of indictments, lawsuits and accusations against Trump, at the moment there is not exactly a stampede of people seeking to be his vice presidential nominee, which makes Donalds’ focus on the position even more interesting.
Another factor probably dampening enthusiasm for the Trump vice presidential slot may simply be Trump’s proven practice of turning on everyone around him. First and foremost is his turning on DeSantis, who went from “a brilliant young leader” to “Ron DeSanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron.” He lambasted his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as “mentally retarded,” Bill Barr became a “gutless pig,” his chief of staff, John Kelly had “a VERY small ‘brain,’” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was “overrated”—and so on and so on.
Most of all, there’s the example of Trump’s treatment of Vice President Mike Pence. After four years of faithful, loyal, totally subservient, self-effacing service, Trump turned on him when Pence refused Trump’s command to violate his oath and the Constitution. In an otherwise humiliating and degrading tenure, it was Pence’s only show of resolve and independence. His reward was to have his boss incite a howling mob to try to hang him.
Trump hasn’t changed. Indeed, if anything he’s gotten worse, as witness his ire on May 30 at Kayleigh McEnany, who went from his faithful mouthpiece to “Milktoast” [sic] and RINO.
So Donald Trump’s new vice presidential pick, whoever he or she may be, can only expect public abuse, insult and humiliation in exchange for his or her expected role of total abasement and unreflecting defense of all of Trump’s lies, delusions and insanities.
What is more, after his experience with Pence, when he selects his running mate, Trump will likely not just be looking for a political loyalist or someone from another geographic area to balance the ticket. He’ll be looking for a slave—and “slave” is the right word for it—someone unthinkingly obedient and utterly without independent will.
In Trump’s likely calculation, the major thing Donalds would bring to the ticket in addition to slavish loyalty would be his race. Because he is African American, Donalds would help deflect charges of racism, a role he has consciously been playing on behalf of Trump and the MAGA movement since 2015.
If Donalds is regarded by the world as a “prop” for the MAGA movement now, it is nothing compared to the tsunami of disgust and denunciation he would face as Trump’s running mate. It would also be supremely ironic in light of all Donalds’ efforts to date to get people to look past his race and focus on his policies and prescriptions.
This scrutiny would be especially acute in light of the fact that as Trump’s vice president Donalds would be a heartbeat away from an obese president who would be 78 years (and 7 months and 6 days) old on the day he takes the oath of office in January 2025. Nothing focuses global attention on every pore of an individual like the possibility of succeeding to the US presidency and commanding the nation’s nukes.
The prospect of Trump standing again on the inaugural stage and taking the oath should prompt every American to contemplate what a second Trump presidency would mean—as well as the vice president’s role in it.
Right now, with his multiple criminal indictments, many more in the offing, and his sea of troubles of all sorts, Trump winning the presidency seems distant and unlikely. However, he’s leading in the Republican primary polls, he has an iron grip on the Party and he is likely to be the Republican nominee in 2024. Further, as commentators are pointing out, even if he’s convicted and in jail, he can still run for President.
So a second Trump presidency, if unlikely, is still a possibility.
Even in the calmest, most rational, most objective light, a second Trump presidency would be a catastrophe that the United States might not survive.
A second Trump presidency would represent the triumph of evil. It would mean the imposition of a Trump tyranny. It would undoubtedly be the end of American democracy. It would elevate the absolutely worst people to positions of power in feudalisic service to their overlord. It would likely lead to the abrogation and elimination of the Constitution. It would be the end of the United States as a leading power in the world. It would mean the end of personal freedom of thought, action and speech. It would inaugurate a lawless, amoral regime of vengeance and viciousness.
Listing the implications and consequences could go on and on.
And Trump’s second in command would be party to it all. The position of Vice President might best be renamed First Accomplice. The First Accomplice will share all the guilt, all the blame and all the criminality that Trump unleashes.
If indeed Donalds wants the dubious distinction of joining Trump on the presidential ticket, this is what he would be signing up for. He would get the position and prominence he craves—and right between the eyes. He already endorses Trump’s criminality, now he would embrace and become one with it. African American politicians and journalists already scorn him; as a vice presidential candidate he would earn their vituperative hatred. If he had any illusions that he could moderate or mitigate the worst of Trump and Trumpism he would join all the other would-be saviors who have been demoted, disgraced and discarded.
And if, somewhere, somehow, he summoned the moral strength to oppose a Trump outrage he could face the same kind of mob Mike Pence faced—a lynch mob.
Even without the vice presidency, Donalds has endorsed the full Trumpist MAGA program. He has embraced it, he is actively promoting it and he is attempting to implement it in Congress with all its implications and consequences.
Byron Donalds wants to rise. It is conceivable that Trump will tap him as vice president.
Vice President John Nance Garner, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president, once famously said that the vice presidency is “not worth a warm bucket of spit” (or a word to that effect).
That would go double under Donald Trump. But if that’s the bucket Donalds wants to dive into, that’s certainly his prerogative as an adult.
He just shouldn’t expect anyone to try to pull him out when he starts to drown.
Originally published on June 27 on The Paradise Progressive.