By Nathan Layne
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) -Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he knows who he wants for his running mate in the 2024 race for president and that his commitment to the NATO alliance will depend on how Europeans treat the United States.
The frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Trump was asked by anchors at a live Fox News town hall who was under consideration for vice president on his ticket.
“I can’t tell you that really. I mean I know who it’s going to be,” Trump told the gathering of Republican voters in Des Moines, Iowa, five days before that Midwestern state’s first-in-the-country nominating context.
In a follow-up question he was asked whether he would be open to mending ties with any of his rivals in the race, to which he responded: “Oh sure, I will.”
Speculation about a running mate has focused in part on Elise Stefanik, a Trump ally and fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, and on Nikki Haley, a rival who was U.N. ambassador from 2017-18 during Trump’s administration.
STANCE ON NATO QUESTIONED
Trump was asked about his stance on NATO – a question that followed the disclosure on Wednesday that Trump told top European officials while he was president that the United States would never help Europe if it came under attack.
“Depends if they treat us properly,” Trump said when asked by the Fox anchors about his commitment to the NATO alliance. “Look, NATO has taken advantage of our country. The European countries took advantage.”
During his first term from 2017 to 2021, Trump repeatedly clashed with traditional allies over trade and defense spending.
Trump’s town hall, counter-programming to a debate he spurned between his rivals for the nomination, Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, took place just hours after former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ended his bid.
Christie had failed to gain momentum in a campaign centered on fierce criticism of Trump’s policies and character, and Trump was asked whether he would consider him for a running mate.
“I don’t see it,” he said. “That would be an upset, Christie for vice president.”
TRUMP HOLDS A COMMANDING LEAD
Trump retains a commanding lead in the contest to be the party’s nominee against President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election, according to a nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday. The poll put him at 49%, ahead of Haley at 12% and DeSantis at 11%.
Trump said he was not worried that Christie’s support in New Hampshire – pegged at 12% in a RealClearPolitics aggregate of poll numbers – might shift to Haley, who sits at 29%. Trump is in the lead at 43%.
Christie’s base of support was greatly concentrated in New Hampshire, the northeastern U.S. state that holds the second Republican nominating contest on Jan. 23 after Iowa on Monday.
“I’m not exactly worried about it,” Trump said. “I love the people. They love me, I think.”
Trump noted that Christie was overheard on Wednesday predicting that Haley was “gonna get smoked” in the race and was “not up to” the job of the presidency, saying he agreed with Christie.
“I know her very well and I happen to believe that Chris Christie is right. That’s one of the few things he’s been right about actually,” he said.
In their debate, DeSantis and Haley sought to emerge as the clear alternative to Trump just days before the campaign’s first votes are cast. But with the former president absent once again from the debate stage, the rivals focused much of their ammunition on each other, rather than Trump, the frontrunner.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Des Moines, Iowa; Editing by Howard Goller)