Trump teases his VP pick while taking sharper aim at Kamala Harris

President Joe Biden’s poor debate performance has not only thrown Donald Trump’s long-anticipated announcement of a vice presidential running mate into a holding pattern.

The fallout, which has included a relentlessly bad news cycle for Biden, has also provided Trump an opportunity to gut-check perhaps the biggest decision of his bid to return to the White House.

Trump acknowledged as much Monday night. Two weeks after he told reporters that he had made up his mind, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he was still evaluating his options. Trump indicated that the debate — and uncertainty about whether Biden will be the Democratic nominee — had emerged as a last-minute factor in his deliberations.

Image: Former President Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Doral, Florida politics political politician maga hat rally gesture point (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)Image: Former President Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Doral, Florida politics political politician maga hat rally gesture point (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Image: Former President Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Doral, Florida politics political politician maga hat rally gesture point (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

“I haven’t made a final decision, but I have some ideas as to where we’re going,” Trump said in a telephone interview for Hannity’s prime-time show. “And a little bit, you know, we wanted to see what they’re doing, to be honest. Because, you know, it might make a difference. I don’t know. I’m not sure that it would, but there are those who say Trump’s waiting until he finds out what’s going to happen with crooked Joe Biden, and we’ll see what happens with Biden.”

Trump’s rollout tease continued Tuesday night with a rally in Doral, Florida, where he noticeably aimed sharper insults at Vice President Kamala Harris, who could be his general election opponent if Biden steps aside.

The location also fueled speculation that Trump was about to select Sen. Marco Rubio, who — like Sen. JD Vance of Ohio and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — has emerged as a finalist and whose political base is in nearby Miami.

Image: Former President Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Doral, Florida politics political politician maga rally (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)Image: Former President Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Doral, Florida politics political politician maga rally (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Image: Former President Donald Trump Holds A Campaign Rally In Doral, Florida politics political politician maga rally (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Rubio addressed the rally audience two hours before Trump took the stage, not long after Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email suggesting his announcement could come at the event.

It never did, though Trump playfully alluded to the speculation.

“I think they probably think I’m going to be announcing that Marco is going to be vice president, because that’s a lot of press,” Trump said at one point.

Questions about Biden’s fitness to serve another four years have dominated the political landscape since his June 27 debate with Trump in Atlanta. Biden, 81, was raspy-voiced and slack-jawed and appeared to lose his train of thought at times during the 90-minute event.

Some Democrats have called for Biden to step aside as the party’s presidential nominee, while others have said he must do more to demonstrate that he is capable of beating Trump, 78, in a rematch of the 2020 election. Other conversations have focused on how Biden could be replaced — and who might replace him. Harris and a crop of Democratic governors have been mentioned as alternatives should Biden drop his re-election bid.

Trump’s comments to Hannity hinted that his decision could now be swayed by the possibility of running against a politically weakened Biden or an altogether new Democratic ticket. A running mate who makes sense for a race against Biden and Harris might make less sense in a race against Harris or against someone else who appeals to a particular constituency.

At his Florida rally, Trump focused on Harris — whose first name he repeatedly mispronounced — more than he typically does in campaign speeches, describing her as a left-wing ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and asserting that she has underperformed as Biden’s vice president. Trump also suggested that Biden would remain in the race because Democrats would rather not run with Harris at the top of their ticket.

“If Joe had picked someone even halfway competent, they would have bounced him from office years ago,” Trump said. “But they can’t, because she’s got to be their second choice.”

A source close to Trump who has been in touch with him about the selection process did not believe the Biden fallout had changed the calculus around who to choose, the source said Tuesday.

Another Republican who has spoken to Trump about the vice presidential selection process said: “I just don’t think that’s part of this, and I certainly have not heard that is the plan. I think they have an idea of what they want to do and are going to stick with that process.”

Meanwhile, senior Trump adviser Brian Hughes offered the same written reply he has for previous stories about the running mate search — that “anyone telling you they know who or when President Trump will choose his VP is lying unless that person is named Donald J. Trump.”

Donald Trump and J.D. Vance during a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file)Donald Trump and J.D. Vance during a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file)

Donald Trump and J.D. Vance during a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file)

A Republican who is closely tied to Trump world said Vance, the freshman senator from Ohio, has the best case to make under any scenario the GOP ticket might face.

“Everything that I’ve seen and believe is [Democrats] would go with Kamala and a Midwestern governor like Josh Shapiro” of Pennsylvania, said the source, who was granted anonymity to share candid observations. “Somebody like JD actually expands the map and is a backstop to the idea where it flips to Kamala and somebody like Shapiro who can go and reinforce the blue wall. So in that regard, he may be the only one that actually adds something of interest, and given who he is and how he communicates, you could see him just barn-burning states.”

Rubio helps appeal to Latino voters, the source said, but the campaign feels confident about its chances in Arizona and Nevada, swing states with large Hispanic populations.

“Doug Burgum is, as most say, safe,” the source said. “He doesn’t really do anything, doesn’t help you, doesn’t hurt you. He kind of allows Trump to shine.”

Others see that as a selling point for Burgum.

Rubio and Vance “have been more rhetoric than they’ve been substance,” said a former senior Trump adviser, who remains close with him and has discussed the running mate search with him. Burgum, an independently wealthy former tech executive, “has actually gotten things done as a governor, as an executive, and the one thing about Burgum that I think really appeals to Trump is that he’s not doing this for the money or for the fame.”

While Biden has done several interviews and made several campaign appearances since the debate as part of an effort to reassure nervous Democrats, Trump had kept a relatively low profile until Monday’s call to Hannity. As a Trump adviser put it Tuesday, campaign officials have been eager to stay out of Biden’s way while he racks up rough headlines.

Trump told Hannity that he wants to wait until next week’s Republican National Convention to reveal his choice — sticking to a timeline that has long been his preference.

“I think probably within the next week,” Trump said, referring to the running mate rollout. “I’d love to do it during the convention. My people say that’s a little complicated.”

Trump is enjoying the suspense and “theatrics” surrounding his pick and is most likely weighing how to “leverage the moment to have the highest impact,” the source close to Trump world said.

“It’s been hard to anticipate that with all of the craziness happening with Biden that you really can’t punch through,” the source said. “He could pick Jesus Christ, and you’re not going to punch through right now.

“I do take him at his word that he said last night, which he really wants to do it at the convention,” the source added. “I think he wants to do it like a WWE walk-out, where there’s smoke and a black screen and then the person appears, because that’d be good f—ing TV.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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