Donald Trump has reportedly picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) as his vice presidential running mate, a move to shore up the presumptive GOP nominee’s standing with skeptical conservatives.
The decision was first reported by Roll Call and later confirmed by CBS News and the Indianapolis Star, though Trump’s team continued to deny that he’d made a final decision throughout the day.
Pence, who often touts himself as “A Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” has deep ties with both social and fiscal conservatives and is viewed as the safe choice for Trump aimed at uniting the party rather than a game-changing move.
“I do think that this is a smart choice, I think it’s a strong pick,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of GOP leadership, told the Daily News. “My view all along is Trump would be well-served to get someone who brings some balance, who complements him as opposed to somebody who reinforces some of his qualities. … The style, the tone differences will be pretty self-evident.”
Pence is well-liked by many in the base of his party, but isn’t a general with military experience or an attack dog adept at ginning up coverage, like others Trump considered.
The former congressman chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee, once challenged John Boehner for House minority leader, and routinely voted against his party from the right while in the House, battling No Child Left Behind and the George W. Bush-backed Medicare prescription drug expansion. He also has close connections to the Koch brothers — the libertarian-leaning billionaires (and fierce Trump critics) have employed a number of his closest advisors in top positions.
Trump has said he will make a formal announcement Friday morning in Manhattan, and his campaign continues to insist no final decisions have been made. Top Pence strategists, while not denying their boss was joining the ticket, referred the Daily News to Trump’s campaign.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump met with Pence at the governor’s mansion in Indianapolis Wednesday, fueling speculation that he would be the pick.
Senior members of the Trump’s team tweeted that the mogul hadn’t yet made a final decision — but they didn’t deny the reports of Pence either.
“A decision has not been made by Mr. Trump. He will be making a decision in the future,” spokesman Jason Miller tweeted.
“Re: @realDonaldTrump VP selection, a decision will be made in the near future and the announcement will be tomorrow at 11am in New York,” campaign chairman Paul Manafort tweeted.
Some of Trump’s closest allies denied any knowledge of the pick — but praised Pence as a possible choice.
“I am high on him and I’m hearing some great things from my colleagues so that’s good too,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the first senator to back Trump and a close advisor to the nominee, told the Daily News. “I’ve known Mike well. He’s a man of integrity and ability. He believes in serving his country and doesn’t have ulterior motives. He’s going to serve Mr. Trump if he’s chosen, and serve America.”
Trump considered Sessions as a possible running mate as well, and the Alabama senator flew to Indiana to be with the candidate as he made up his mind in the last few days.
“I was with him yesterday and I was impressed with his analysis and how he thought about it,” he said. “We had a good relationship from the beginning. I just wanted to help him get the right choice.”
Pence was picked over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who shares Trump’s media adeptness and bombastic style, as well as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). Both may have been more capable attack dogs — but had higher penchants for controversies themselves.
Other potential candidates who had been under consideration for Trump’s running mate took themselves out of the running, including Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
“I’m happy for him and happy for the ticket,” Corker told reporters as news leaked out of Trump’s decision, while cautioning that he didn’t have any information himself about the choice.
The decision will allow Pence to escape a tough reelection fight in just the nick of time. Polls show he’s unpopular in his home state of Indiana following a rough first term. Pence had to officially make a decision on whether or not he would run for reelection by a noon Friday state deadline.
Senior Republicans expressed relief that Trump had picked someone they know and trust.
“I’ve served with Mike, I like him personally,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who has at times been critical of Trump, told the Daily News. “He adds a lot of bang to the ticket. A smart guy, articulate, he knows Washington, he’s been the chief executive of a state, he’s been a part of the media, has radio experience. I think the combination of understanding the media, having run a state and [serving] in Congress, makes him a very strong vice presidential candidate.”
His home-state colleague agreed.
“Solid choice, really good choice. He shores up conservatives. He presents himself well. He’s a decent guy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a frequent Trump critic, told the Daily News.
Graham, however, said he still wouldn’t endorse his former White House rival.
Pence has had a rocky time in office as governor. His embrace of a “religious freedom” law drew strong national backlash from gay rights advocates and threats of a boycott from the NCAA and other major organizations. He then sought to backtrack by signing changes to the law, leading to howls from social conservatives that he was abandoning them out of political convenience.
He also drew severe rebukes for attempting to create a state-run, taxpayer-funded news outlet mocked by critics as “Pravda on the Plains” — plans he abandoned in embarrassment.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joined Trump at a rally in Westfield, Ind., Tuesday night as the mogul was zeroing in on his pick.
It’s unclear how Pence’s carefully scripted style — the former radio host has called himself “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” — will mesh with Trump’s freewheeling approach. Critics view Pence as wooden and slow on his feet, and his missteps on the religious freedom bill did him no favors in dispelling that image. It will be interesting to see how he’ll handle questions when Trump makes his next controversial comments. Trump told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that he wanted as a running mate a “fighter who is skilled in hand-to-hand combat,” not Pence’s calling card.
The two haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on policy, either. Pence derided Trump’s proposed Muslim ban as “offensive and unconstitutional” back in December. He’s long been a fierce free trade advocate, supporting NAFTA and other deals that Trump has railed against. And he authored a 2006 immigration bill framed as a compromise between bipartisan legislation and anti-immigration hawks, stalled after hard-liners derided it as “amnesty.”
Pence backed Ted Cruz before Indiana’s GOP primary, though in his tepid endorsement he spent almost as much time praising Trump as Cruz. Trump won the state handily, ending Cruz’s campaign and locking down the nomination.
Hillary Clinton’s team declined to weigh in on Pence until a final decision was made. Top Clinton staffers said they wanted to wait until it was official to comment, and Clinton ignored reporters’ questions about the Indiana governor as she exited a meeting with Senate Democrats.
But some of Clinton’s allies were happy to respond.
“Pence has a rich history of marginalizing women as a politician, the same way Donald Trump has throughout his career and this campaign,” Marcy Stech, a spokesperson for EMILY’s List, a group that backs pro-choice Democratic women including Clinton, said in a statement. “Together, they are a perfect storm of classic out-of-touch GOP extremism. For the very few women still not convinced that Trump isn’t a threat to women, Gov. Pence should do it — these men are not to be trusted.”
Trump’s decision comes after weeks of very public tryouts for potential running mates. Pence drew praise for his unusually feisty performance alongside Trump on Tuesday night in his home state. Trump then got stuck in Indiana due to problems with his plane, giving them extra time together in the final days before the presumptive nominee’s decision.
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