CNN  — 

Florida Republican Rep. Byron Donalds, a Donald Trump loyalist and one of the former president’s most trusted surrogates, is widely viewed to be on Trump’s short list of vice presidential contenders.

But in 2011, Donalds posted to Facebook celebrating Trump’s decision not to challenge then-President Barack Obama for the White House. “Trump won’t run. Thank God!” Donalds wrote in one Facebook post in May 2011.

CNN’s KFile unearthed numerous examples of Donalds directly criticizing Trump in social media posts and interviews in 2011 and 2012, when he was an outspoken tea party activist running – unsuccessfully, then – for a seat in Congress. He attacked Trump’s protectionist stances on trade and called out Trump for his birtherism comments about Obama.

Byron Donalds/Facebook

“Trump is a huge distraction, and cares more about himself than the country in my opinion, but I could care less about him,” Donalds wrote in a Facebook post in April 2011 when discussing Trump’s claims that Obama’s birth certificate was fake.

“I don’t question his religion or his citizenship,” Donalds said. “Quite a few Democrats and liberals still think Bush caused 9/11.”

“Trump is a self-promoter yelling about 25% tariffs on China,” Donalds said in the same string of Facebook posts.

In other public comments from the same time, Donalds argued against Trump’s calls to boost US manufacturing, saying it was cheaper to make clothes in China than in Michigan, and said he favored privatizing entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which would be better as a “voucher,” along with raising the retirement age.

A spokesman for Donalds defended him in a comment to CNN.

“President Trump is considering Byron as his running mate because of the Congressman’s steadfast support for the 45th President and his historic policy agenda. The fact that these decade-old posts are now resurfacing in the middle of running mate deliberations is weak but typical of CNN.”

Donalds is far from the only Republican vice-presidential contender to have criticized Trump in the past. Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance called Trump a “moral disaster” in direct messages from the summer of 2017 that were made public in 2021. And New York Rep. Elise Stefanik criticized Trump’s rhetoric in 2015, 2016 and 2017 for “tapping into the fear of our security situation” and his “insulting” comments about women and disparaging remarks on Muslims.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been floated as possible VP pick, harshly criticized Trump on a number of occasions when the two faced off for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

But the Trump campaign views Donalds as among its most effective surrogates for the former president, one that could help him peel Black male voters from President Joe Biden.

Donalds rose to prominence in Trump world last year when the Florida congressman endorsed Trump over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who he had appeared closely aligned with. The decision stunned and unnerved the DeSantis team, but propelled Donalds to Trump’s inner circle, where he remains.

Trump routinely praises Donalds during campaign rallies and has publicly thanked him for his support. He’s a frequent commentator on conservative media, with a 2023 analysis from the left-leaning Media Matters finding he appeared on Fox News weekday programs 193 times between August 2017 and October 2023.

While Trump has asked allies their thoughts on Donalds as vice president, advisers have acknowledged the complications of this scenario given they both are residents of Florida.

The 12th Amendment doesn’t forbid a president and vice president from the same state, but it requires electors to vote for at least one candidate from a different state than theirs, meaning either Trump or Donalds would need to change their state residency in order to collect electoral votes from Florida. If Donalds changed his residency, he would need to resign from Congress.

Donalds’ past comments demonstrate just how much Trump has transformed the GOP. A decade ago, Donalds was espousing the virtues of free trade and the need to shrink the size of the federal government through cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Yet he now supports Trump’s calls for tariffs on imports and the need to protect entitlement programs.

Donalds lost his 2012 race for Congress, failing to win the Republican nomination in a crowded primary field that year.  But he would get elected in 2016 to the Florida House of Representatives. During his primary for the statehouse, he defended Trump as “authentic” and spoke at a rally for him in September 2016.

By the time Donalds was elected to Congress in 2020, he had fully embraced the Trump agenda, aligning himself closely with the then-president’s policies and rhetoric and solidifying his position as a staunch Trump supporter within the party.

When Donalds was first elected to Congress his website’s homepage featured a picture of him embracing then-President Trump.

“He’s everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man,” Donalds’ website read.

But Donalds’ embrace of Trump when running for Congress was a far cry from his tea party activism a decade ago.

Guest-hosting a radio show in 2012, Donalds defended Mitt Romney, then the Republican nominee for president by arguing in support of outsourcing after a co-host said Romney lacked “corporate patriotism.”

“Corporate patriotism, what are you talking about corporate patriotism,” Donalds said, when a host said Romney moved jobs overseas.

“If that shirt is manufactured in, let’s say Michigan, that shirt will probably cost you $50,” Donalds said as a guest. “How does that help middle income families who can’t afford a $50 shirt but can afford a $30 shirt from Bangladesh or China or Taiwan wherever it’s made.”

“Free trade raises the standard of living every time it is done,” Donalds added.

The comments on trade aren’t the only tea party-era policy issues that would set him at odds with Trump. During his 2012 campaign for Congress, Donalds heavily embraced calls to privatize Social Security and Medicare – two programs Trump (and Donalds) now promise not to cut.

And the videos of local campaign stops and musings on social media from his time as a tea party activist could prove a liability for Donalds in the jostling to be vice president occurring behind the scenes.

“I’m not afraid to call it a voucher because that’s exactly what it’s gonna be: A voucher,” Donalds said at one local Republican event in April 2012  when campaigning for Congress.

Democrats argued in 2012 that budget plans supported by Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice presidential running mate, would turn Medicare into a “voucher” system, which Republicans typically called “premium support,” instead. Under the proposals, the government would subsidize seniors by partially paying for private plans or a traditional Medicare plan.

Unlike most Republicans, Donalds embraced the term.

“I think we need to go to a private account system similar to what they did in the country of Chile,” he added on Social Security in an appearance on a radio show in June 2012.