Trump’s VP List Narrows, With Vance, Burgum and Rubio in Front

Former President Donald J. Trump’s process of choosing a running mate has entered its final stages in a frenzied and increasingly theatrical fashion as he privately narrows his focus to a set of top contenders. At the same time, he is encouraging his team to fuel speculation about other candidates — and about the possibility that his pick could be announced at any moment.

Behind closed doors, Mr. Trump has been primarily interested in Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, according to three people who have spoken to the former president in recent days and insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations.

But Mr. Trump has befuddled some friends and advisers by continuing to solicit opinions on other contenders, including Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and former housing secretary during his administration, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Meanwhile, a series of cryptic and suggestive messages from Mr. Trump’s campaign that the announcement could come as soon as this week has ignited 72 hours of unbridled conjecture, confusing political observers and Republican allies.

Several Republican strategists said there was little obvious advantage for Mr. Trump to announce his vice-presidential pick during the same week as his first debate with President Biden, which will unfold on Thursday night in Atlanta. Mr. Trump has invited to the debate a parade of his potential picks, including the leading three contenders, and given them the task of defending his performance in front of a throng of cable news cameras and political reporters.

But few of the strategists would rule out a debate-week announcement, considering the former president’s penchant for impulsive decisions.

Mr. Trump is hardly the first candidate to promise a “big reveal” to draw audiences. But he is again demonstrating that few others are more committed to torquing the technique for political purposes.

“He’s a promoter — it’s in his DNA,” said Mike Dubke, a Republican strategist and former Trump White House communications director. “He’s going to keep doing this until he stops having fun, or stops extracting value from it.”

One of the clearest consequences of the will-he-or-won’t-he, who-will-it-be speculation was Fox News’s announcement this week that it would hold a series of interviews with contenders and their significant others.

The interviews had originally been scheduled for July, closer to the start of the Republican National Convention, when Mr. Trump has generally suggested he would make his announcement. Instead, they were moved up: Mr. Vance’s interview ran Wednesday, Mr. Scott’s is set to appear on Thursday and Mr. Burgum’s is expected on Monday.

From inside Mar-a-Lago, the interviews are being viewed as something of a final casting call for Mr. Trump. But the rush to start broadcasting the segments may have cost Mr. Rubio a spot in the series.

According to two people familiar with the planning, Mr. Rubio’s team had balked at several potential interview settings, including one option for a pickleball match with Steve Doocy, a “Fox and Friends” anchor. When the timeline shifted earlier, Mr. Rubio’s office told the network it was unable to unwind multiple scheduling conflicts, the people said.

Tensions over the interview spilled into public view on Wednesday morning when Mr. Doocy complained on air that Mr. Rubio had stopped responding to his texts. Brian Kilmeade, one of Mr. Doocy’s co-hosts, suggested they should “ambush” Mr. Rubio at his home in Miami or at a sporting event for one of his children.

“Maybe he already knows who the pick is going to be,” Mr. Doocy said, adding, “Marco, it’s not too late — Marco, go ahead, text me right now and tell me you’re going to be available and I’ll be in Miami in 15 minutes.”

A spokesman for Mr. Rubio declined to comment. A Fox News spokeswoman pointed to the network’s news release from earlier in the week promoting the interviews.

Some Trump aides have urged reporters to keep a vigilant watch on the former president’s social media feed around the clock, implying that the announcement could come in the middle of the night.

On Tuesday, Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser, posted a suggestive message on social media: “Heading to West Palm!! Question is …who is with me???”

The runaway guesswork has been its own reward for Mr. Trump’s campaign, which has drawn the attention of major news outlets to a story that keeps him in the headlines and presents little political risk.

Last month, the Trump campaign inflamed the veepstakes news cycle by trickling out a list of contenders who were being vetted. But the campaign never defined what it meant by vetting, and the list ignored the reality that Mr. Trump was in fact training his attention on a narrower group.

The campaign’s mystifying messaging has also caused headaches for Mr. Trump’s Republican allies.

“Every single piece of information I have is coming from reporters — it’s maddening,” an adviser to one vice-presidential contender said on Tuesday.

“No one wants this over more than me,” another said.

“This is torturous,” said a third, adding, “But Trump is clearly enjoying himself.”

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