Would Trump leave Florida to make DeSantis his running mate? He might have to.

The Constitution would make it tough for the Sunshine State Republicans to run together unless one of them finds a new home.
President Donald Trump walks with Governor Ron DeSantis after arriving on Air Force One at PBIA on Nov. 26, 2019.
President Donald Trump walks with Governor Ron DeSantis after arriving on Air Force One at PBIA on Nov. 26, 2019. [ RICHARD GRAULICH/PALMBEACHPOST.COM | Palm Beach Post ]
Published July 28, 2021

Donald Trump has already suggested that if he runs for the White House again, he could look within his adopted home state of Florida for his next running mate.

But if the former president wants Gov. Ron DeSantis on the ticket in 2024, he might have to give up his Florida address, thanks to a rarely invoked provision in the U.S. Constitution that frowns on a party nominating a president and vice president from the same state.

The 12th Amendment to the nation’s guiding document sends a straightforward message to the Electoral College on how to choose the country’s next leaders. It states: “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.”

In layman’s terms, it means that Florida cannot vote for both a president and vice president who are Floridians.

Related: Trump: DeSantis 'certainly' in the mix for vice president in 2024

The constitutional quirk has not received much attention in all the speculation about Trump’s future political aspirations and DeSantis’ viability as his No. 2. It certainly hasn’t stopped conservatives from dreaming of Trump joining forces with DeSantis, whose popularity among Republicans has soared in the past year. Trump-DeSantis 2024 apparel is already for sale at independent online stores.

A banner supporting the idea of a 2024 Republican ticket featuring former President Donald Trump and, for vice president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, outside a May 6, 2021, rally in West Palm Beach at which DeSantis signed a law making it harder for some people to vote.
A banner supporting the idea of a 2024 Republican ticket featuring former President Donald Trump and, for vice president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, outside a May 6, 2021, rally in West Palm Beach at which DeSantis signed a law making it harder for some people to vote. [ ANTHONY MAN | South Florida ]

Nevertheless, the 12th Amendment is a potentially complicating factor in what would be one of the most consequential decisions Trump would make if he waged another presidential campaign. And constitutional experts are in agreement that there’s no getting around it, unless Trump decides to give up his Florida residency.

“Whether or not the requirement that you vote for someone other than someone from your state makes sense today, and it probably doesn’t, the text is clear,” said Vikram Amar, dean of the University of Illinois College of Law and a professor of constitutional law. “It’s pretty anachronistic, but there it is, part of the text.”

The provision is a throwback to the early days of the republic, when the country’s leaders were wary that the American government — still mostly a collection of independently governed states — could cede too much authority to one state, said Robert William Bennett, a Northwestern University law professor and author of “Taming the Electoral College.”

Some in the past have misinterpreted the 12th amendment to mean that the country cannot elect a president and vice president from the same state, which is not the case.

The issue came up during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. With former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio both seeking the nomination, some wondered if they might eventually run together. MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell erroneously told his viewers in April 2015 that Bush-Rubio (or Rubio-Bush) couldn’t happen because they’re both from Florida, a remark that the independent fact-checking website PolitiFact deemed to be false.

But Florida’s representatives to the Electoral College could not vote for Trump to be president and DeSantis to be vice president. That means one of them — most likely DeSantis — would have to forgo the state’s 30 Electoral College votes in 2024, jeopardizing his chances and potentially turning the election of the vice president over to a hyper-politicized U.S. Congress.

If Florida was a less populous state, perhaps a Trump-DeSantis ticket could afford to forfeit those votes. But Florida is the country’s largest swing state and no reasonable candidate would dare concede its Electoral College haul.

Related: DeSantis parts with Trump in response to Surfside tragedy

“It would be an impediment unless they took some action to deal with it,” Bennett said. “One action would be that Trump could give up whatever his place in Florida is. He certainly has credentials for being a resident of the state of New York, if not other places.”

DeSantis, a former Florida congressman born and raised in the Sunshine State, could move as well, though the chances of that happening are slim and grow slimmer yet if he is elected to a second term as governor next year.

If Trump moved, it wouldn’t be the first time a change of address preceded a presidential election. In 2000, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney both called Texas home — until Cheney picked up and went to Wyoming just as Bush tapped him to be his running mate. A legal challenge to Cheney’s claim to the Electoral College votes from Texas failed in the courts, with the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declining to intervene. Cheney served two terms as Bush’s vice president.

Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar said judges should be “very hesitant” to question the decisions of where people want to live and said Trump could switch his residency in late 2024 without sparking a Constitutional conundrum.

“People are allowed to move,” he said. “If Trump wants to move, he can move. He has plenty of time to move, but it should be a real move. They shouldn’t thumb their nose at the Constitution.”

Trump was a lifelong New Yorker before leaving the city and changing his residency to Palm Beach in 2019 while serving as president. The former Manhattanite blamed his move on New York leadership, saying that he had been “treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state.” Trump took refuge in Mar-a-Lago, the waterfront club he owns in South Florida and already frequented.

Chatter about Trump’s next steps remains just that. Though he’s holding rallies once again in various cities and remains a singular force in the Republican Party, he hasn’t publicly stated his intentions.

Joe Gruters, the chair of the Republican Party of Florida, said it’s too soon to speculate as to whether Trump would re-establish his New York ties, or perhaps move to another one of his U.S. properties, if he wants to team up with DeSantis in three years. Gruters, a close ally of Trump’s who recently emceed the president’s Sarasota rally, said the Republican leader is focused on helping DeSantis win re-election in 2022.

“There’s so much that can happen between now and then, but for me, it’s exciting that we have two of the most dominating figures in Republican politics here in Florida,” Gruters said. “Over time, things will resolve itself.”

Early polls have shown that DeSantis would be a leading contender for president in 2024 if Trump doesn’t run; yet, there are signs Trump will. Trump is already telling dinner guests he intends to campaign for the White House in 2024, according to Rolling Stone magazine, and Politico recently reported that Trump’s team is looking at who could take the place of former Vice President Mike Pence. Multiple outlets have said the Florida governor is squarely in the mix if he wants it

For his part, Trump has welcomed the early 2024 talk. In an April call-in to Fox Business, Trump said he “certainly” would consider DeSantis for the vice presidential nomination.

“A lot of people like that,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “You know, I’m just saying what I read and what you read. They love that ticket.”