Rich, loyal and good looking: Why little-known Doug Burgum is in Trump’s VP mix

Burgum’s recent proximity to Trump, as a companion on the campaign trail and a surrogate on television and at swanky dinners, has boosted his profile as one of the top candidates for Trump’s running mate.
Burgum’s recent proximity to Trump, as a companion on the campaign trail and a surrogate on television and at swanky dinners, has boosted his profile as one of the top candidates for Trump’s running mate.


The presumptive Republican nominee likes North Dakota’s governor—and his rich friends.

WASHINGTON—As court adjourned for lunch Tuesday in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial, the former president’s lawyers, family and friends poured into the court’s holding room for some of New York City’s finest pizza. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, among them, popped in and out to defend Trump in front of news cameras.

Last weekend, Burgum was a warm-up act at Trump’s rally in New Jersey—far from his home state on the Plains. And earlier this month, Burgum and his wife, Kathryn, mingled with party officials and megadonors at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and again Tuesday at a hotel overlooking New York’s Central Park.

Burgum’s recent proximity to Trump, as a companion on the campaign trail and a surrogate on television and at swanky dinners, has boosted his profile as one of the top candidates for Trump’s running mate.

Trump’s embrace of Burgum reveals what is really important to the VP search, according to people close to the former president: whether Trump likes the person, regardless of what they bring to the ticket. Trump likes that Burgum is rich, loyal and good looking, according to people close with the presumptive GOP nominee.

“He’s a rich guy with rich friends," said one Republican close to both the Trump campaign and Burgum’s office. “That goes a long way with Trump. It also goes a long way with a campaign that’s shorter on cash than the other team," referring to President Biden’s fundraising prowess.

Trump has Burgum, 67 years old, on an elastic list of contenders. The former president has resisted his advisers’ calls to narrow down the names—but those close to Trump agree the governor is among a handful being taken seriously.

For a race polling as close as the 2024 presidential election, some aides tell Trump it is best to pick a running mate who might give him a bump in swing states, or with demographic groups with which he is falling short—in particular, women and Black voters.

Burgum, a wealthy white governor from a deeply red state Trump is virtually assured to win, doesn’t check those boxes.

But Trump is impressed with Burgum’s business acumen, according to people familiar with his thinking. Following Burgum’s endorsement of Trump in January, Trump described him as: “the most solid guy. There’s no controversy whatsoever."

Those familiar with Trump’s thinking said that if Trump were to win in November, he likely would see Burgum as a better fit for a cabinet position—such as energy, commerce or agriculture secretary—given his experience in business and in running a state where oil-and-gas drilling and production, petroleum refining and corn, wheat and soybean production are the dominant industries.

For now, a Trump aide said the former president likes that Burgum brings in donors—and supporters in general—who don’t normally get active in politics. The aide declined to be specific.

He also likes Burgum’s appearance, according to several aides, in keeping with Trump’s tendency to defer to his “Central Casting" instincts. Burgum is tall and fit with a head full of wavy salt-and-pepper hair.

Burgum’s wife, Kathryn, has a compelling story about overcoming struggles with alcoholism, a disease that consumed Trump’s older brother, Fred Trump Jr., who died in 1981. It is something the former president has found endearing about North Dakota’s first couple, according to people familiar with their dynamic.

Burgum’s office declined requests for an interview.

The former president has said he is in no rush and is likely to wait until just before the GOP convention in mid-July.

Also on the VP shortlist are a number of women, including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.), Gov. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R., Ark.). Some people familiar with Trump’s thinking said that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley could be under consideration as someone who can offer a boost with moderate female voters—something Trump has publicly denied.

Others in the discussion: Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), the sole African-American Republican senator and the first to be elected by a southern state since Reconstruction; and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.)—a Latino-American who is popular among mainstream Republicans and, Trump’s advisers think, would help Trump attract Hispanic voters in key states such as Nevada.

“Everybody’s tied for second," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), an ally of both Trump and Burgum.

Cramer said Trump asked him about Burgum’s weaknesses. “I said: ‘You know, I just can’t think of any,’" Cramer recalled. He’s “experienced in everything from roping cattle and branding cows to building a world-class software company and he’s quite articulate and passionate about the things he cares about."

Steve Bannon, a former Trump strategist, said Trump sees in Burgum a “safe pair of hands who can help get things done."

Burgum’s company Great Plains Software Inc., which he mortgaged inherited farmland in 1983 to invest in, was bought by Microsoft in 2000 for about $1.1 billion in stock. Burgum became a Microsoft senior vice president with the acquisition. In 2016, he was elected governor of North Dakota, making him one of the wealthiest governors in the U.S.

Joel Heitkamp, a former Democratic North Dakota state senator, prominent radio talk-show host and at times, Burgum critic, said the governor has a few things going for him.

“If [Trump] needs money, Burgum has money and is willing to buy his way," he said. He added that Burgum wasn’t shy about being loyal to Trump. “If the former president said ‘I need you to wash my car,’ Burgum would be out doing it."

Burgum, little known outside his home state, largely self-funded his struggling presidential campaign last year before dropping out in January. To make the first primary debate, which required a minimum 40,000 individual donors per the GOP rules, he offered anyone who contributed $1 a $20 gift card.

Shortly after ending his long-shot bid, Burgum endorsed Trump, as he had in 2016 and 2020.

In New York on Tuesday, he was among many political allies invited to be courtroom guests of the former president as Trump stood trial on charges related to allegedly false entries in his company’s records to disguise reimbursements linked to hush-money payments.

Unlike former Vice President Mike Pence, Burgum doesn’t have strong ties to the evangelical community. But his record overlaps with Trump’s interests on energy and border security, those close to both men said.

As governor of America’s second-largest oil-producing state, Burgum has advocated for the advantages of domestic oil-and-gas production, and says he believes in “innovation over regulation." At the recent Republican donor retreat in Florida, he told attendees that Trump would halt what he called Biden’s “attack" on fossil fuels, according to people who attended the closed-press event.

He has also had significant legislative battles at home. Burgum tried to appoint a coal executive to an open seat in the state legislature, something Republicans and Democrats said he had no authority to do. The move sparked a feud that made its way to the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed by Burgum. The state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Burgum.

Burgum and Trump’s relationship wasn’t always rosy.

On his radio show two years ago, Heitkamp asked Burgum point-blank if he would ever consider being Trump’s running mate. “No," Burgum replied, without hesitation.

Today, Burgum appears to be all in—though he says it is more about the country than just Trump.

“I’m here," he told CNN on Tuesday outside the Manhattan court where Trump was on trial, “because I care about the future of this country and where it’s going."

Write to Vivian Salama at and Alex Leary at

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