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Trump running mate screen tests: potential contenders audition for vice presidential nod

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From the campaign trail in South Carolina to the Conservative Political Action Conference, some of the leading potential contenders to serve as Donald Trump’s 2024 running mate are turning up the volume in their praise of the former president.

“Let South Carolina send a message to all America. The Republican primary is over and Donald Trump is our nominee,” Sen. Tim Scott stressed as he stood next to Trump at a rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on the eve of his home state’s GOP presidential primary.

Scott, the uplifting conservative champion who ended his own White House run in November and endorsed Trump last month, joined the former president on the campaign trail in South Carolina repeatedly this month, including on Saturday night at Trump’s primary night celebration.

“Is South Carolina Trump country?” Scott asked the crowd to loud cheers, at the event in Columbia.

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Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, is one of over a half dozen potential contenders with aspirations of joining Trump on the national ticket who’s been talking up the former president.

Among them is another former rival from the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race – Vivek Ramaswamy.

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The multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur, author, and political commentator, speaking Saturday at CPAC, urged any aligned group “that supported me during that campaign, I’m publicly calling on them to use their resources to support Donald J. Trump in his reelection effort. And I want every other Republican candidate who ran for president to do the same thing.”

Ramaswamy also made a handful of stops in South Carolina, to campaign both with and on behalf of Trump, in recent weeks.

Rep. Byron Donald of Florida, a longtime Trump supporter, joined the former president on Friday at the Black Conservative Foundation Gala in Columbia, S.C.

“We have a true opportunity which doesn’t come along very often in politics to elect real leadership back to the White House. And that leadership is in the form of the 45th president, soon to be the 47th president. Donald J. Trump,” Donalds told the crowd.

A day earlier, Donalds espoused a similar message at CPAC, the granddaddy of conservative confabs that has turned into a Trump-fest since the former president first won the White House in 2016. 

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another longtime Trump supporter and surrogate, in an apparent dig at former 2024 contenders Scott and Ramaswamy, emphasized to cheers at CPAC on Friday that “I’ve always supported the fact that our next president needs to be President Trump.”

“I was one of the first people to endorse Donald Trump to be president,” Noem added. “Last year, when everyone was asking me if I was going to consider running, I said no. Why would you run for president when you know you can’t win?”

Kristi Noem is a potential Trump running mate

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the fourth ranking House Republican and another top Trump loyalist, told the crowd at CPAC that “I’m proud to be the first member of Congress to endorse President Trump for reelection.”

And former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who later turned independent and who has become a favorite among conservatives, also praised Trump at CPAC.

“I’ve met a lot of strong, tough people in my life, I can’t think of a single one who could not only withstand all that is coming at Donald Trump without crumbling, but someone who would actually choose to keep fighting against the entire Washington establishment,” she highlighted.

Noem and Ramaswamy topped the CPAC Trump running mate straw poll this weekend – tied at 15%.

Trump on Saturday took another big step towards locking up the GOP nomination by defeating his last remaining major rival – former U.N. ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – by 20 points in her home state presidential primary.

At a Fox News town hall in South Carolina last week, he indicated that at least a half a dozen contenders — including three former rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — are on his short list for running mate.

During the program, which ran on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle,” Trump was asked about Scott, Ramaswamy, Noem, Donalds, Gabbard, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Are they all on your short list?” host Laura Ingraham asked the former president.

“They are,” Trump answered. “Honestly, all of those people are good. They’re all good, they’re all solid.”

Scott received a warm welcome from the large crowd of mostly Trump supporters when he arrived at the Greenville, South Carolina, convention center where the town hall was held.

“A lot of people are talking about that gentleman right over there,” Trump said as he pointed to Scott, who was sitting in the front row of the audience.

Asked about Trump’s praise, Scott told Fox News Digital on Thursday that the former president “certainly was very generous and kind with his words. But more important than who his running mate is is making sure that he’s our next president.”

Asked about potentially serving as Trump’s running mate, Ramaswamy also demurred.

“Donald Trump has got to win this election. That’s my sole focus and making sure he wins by a decisive victory,” he told reporters last week during a stop in South Carolina. “And I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure that his presidency is as successful as it possibly can be.”

While the potential running mate contenders are playing coy, seasoned Republican strategist David Kochel told Fox News the appearances on the campaign trail “of course, are screen tests. I think CPAC is going to play that role as well this weekend – obviously big with the MAGA folks.”

“Trump likes to talk about people that he hires coming out of central casting, so to use the word audition is apropos,” added Kochel, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns.

Alex Castellanos, another longtime Republican consultant who worked on multiple White House campaigns, agreed that “of course these guys are auditioning.”

“In a way they have to. They already failed the taste test for occupying a position in the White House,” Castellanos said as he pointed to Scott and Ramaswamy’s failed presidential campaigns.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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