Trump formally unveils VP pick Mike Pence, thanks evangelicals for support
NEW YORK — Donald Trump formally unveiled Mike Pence as his running mate Saturday, capping a chaotic rollout that sources say included a dramatic night of soul-searching on whether he had settled on the right man.
The presumptive Republican nominee introduced the Indiana governor in Manhattan — 24 hours later than planned, since Trump postponed the original event in the wake of the terror attack in Nice, France.
“I’m here today to introduce my partner in this campaign and the White House to fix our rigged system — we are in a rigged, rigged system — and to make America safe again, and to make America great again,” Trump said.
Trump opened his announcement by offering sympathies to France and then turning to the attempted coup in Turkey, saying he hoped the situation was sorting itself out. Then he pivoted to an attack on Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, who he said was the epitome of corruption and blamed her for leading President Barack Obama down a “horrible” path in the Middle East.
Then he briefly praised Pence.
“Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is my first choice. I also admire the fact that he fights for the people and he also is going to fight for you. He is a solid, solid person,” Trump said, praising Pence for leading his state well despite what he said was obstruction from the Obama administration.
“What a difference between crooked Hillary Clinton and Mike Pence,” Trump said, saying that the Indiana governor would never be afraid to say the words, “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Trump appeared to repeatedly digress from his prepared speech to go off on a characteristic conversational stream of consciousness, crowing about how he had predicted terror attacks in Europe and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. He boasted about how he had beaten more than a dozen other Republican candidates in the primary and how members of the #NeverTrump movement had been “crushed” in rules committee meetings in Cleveland ahead of the convention.
Trump signaled that his pick of Pence was part of an effort to reach out to evangelicals and social conservatives. He went into a detailed riff about how he would repeal the “Johnson amendment” as president, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from endorsing political candidates.
“Religion’s voice has been taken away and we’re going to change that,” Trump said.
Finally, nearly 20 minutes into his speech, Trump returned to Pence, lauding his record in Indiana on job creating, cutting taxes and education — to cite reasons why he chose Pence. But then, in a typical digression, he turned to praising his own project to convert the Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington into a luxury hotel.
Finally, the billionaire returned to the reasons he had picked Pence to serve on his presidential ticket — primarily his work in Indiana.
“The turnaround and the strength of Indiana has been incredible and I learned that when I campaigned there and I learned that when I won that state in a landslide,” Trump said.
He recalled how Pence had actually endorsed his rival Ted Cruz in the GOP primary — but had actually seemed to favor him. “I was the single greatest non endorsement I have had in my life.”
Pence, after he was finally introduced, lavished praise on Trump and his family.
“I accept your invitation to run and serve as vice president of the United States of America,” Pence said.
“Donald Trump is a good man and he will make a great president of the United States of America,” Pence added.
Unlike Trump, Pence appeared to stick to his script, delivering a conventional speech for a vice presidential nominee, praising God, his family and offering a rundown of his political career and his fidelity to conservatism.
Though Trump billed his vice presidential announcement as a news conference, about 250 seats lay between the press pen and the podium, adorned with the standard “TRUMP” campaign logo — not the newly released Trump-Pence logo, a design that left many scratching their heads.
Trump and Pence last took the stage together in Indianapolis Tuesday night — their first joint appearance on the campaign trail — with a massive American flag serving as the backdrop. On Saturday, 11 American flags adorned the stage, as red, white and blue stage lights lit up the backdrop behind them.
A conventional choice
Trump’s selection of Pence — who is seen as a safe pair of hands in Washington — was one of the most conventional steps the billionaire has taken in an unorthodox campaign.
But his pick lost much of the political impact that campaigns normally try to build around a vice presidential selection due to a disorganized and leak-prone process. It revealed a candidate second-guessing himself over his decision and a campaign that doesn’t seem ready for prime-time.
In the end, and appropriately given the role of social media in his campaign, Trump took to Twitter on Friday to unveil the worst-kept secret in politics — that he had chosen Pence to round out the GOP ticket.
And on Saturday, he took to Twitter again, seeking to rebut reports that he experienced second thoughts about picking Pence, whom he does not know well, insisting he had wanted him all along.
“Look forward to introducing Governor Mike Pence (who has done a spectacular job in the great State of Indiana). My first choice from start!,” Trump wrote.
Trump and Pence hope to fire up Republican grassroots voters over their new partnership and build momentum as they march towards the Republican National Convention, which begins in Cleveland on Monday.
The nomination sets up a stark clash in styles between Trump, a brash presumptive nominee with a tendency to freelance into controversies juxtaposed with a cautious former congressional leader who’s stuck close to conservative orthodoxy since starting his career in talk radio.
Pence quickly moved into line with some of Trump’s most controversial policies before the roll out.
He said in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on Friday that he was “very supportive” of the presumptive Republican nominee’s call to temporarily ban immigration from nations where there is heavy terrorist activity.
When Trump first announced a more stringent plan for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in December, Pence said it was “offensive and unconstitutional.”
The Indiana governor also backed Trump’s proposal for a wall on the southern U.S. border and said Mexico would “absolutely” pay for it.
Pence got an early look at the roller coaster ride he has signed up for over the next four months in the immediate hours after Trump called him to offer him the job and he flew to New York expecting things to be made official on Friday.
He arrived in New York late Thursday only to be alerted by an aide to a Fox News interview in which Trump was insisted he had not yet made a “final, final decision,” despite already asking Pence to be his No 2.
Trump, multiple sources told CNN, was troubled by his gut feeling that he should have gone with his friend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie instead, and made calls to his children and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but was told he could not.
The Trump campaign has denied the reports that Trump had a sudden crisis of confidence over his pick of Pence, which have put the Indiana governor in an awkward position at the moment of joining the Republican ticket.
The Clinton campaign on Saturday sought to capitalize on the fitful vice presidential roll out, releasing a web video mocking the billionaire for being indecisive despite running a campaign based on his decision-making skills.
Pence put a brave face on the drama in an interview with Indiana TV station Fox59 on Friday.
“I’m excited to be joining the ticket tomorrow with Donald Trump. I think he’ll be a great president and I look forward to carrying his message all across this country in the months ahead and serving with him in the next administration,” Pence said.
Trump had initially suggested he would wait until the Republican National Convention to unveil his vice presidential choice, but Indiana law forced his hand. Candidates can’t run for both federal and state office after July 15, meaning Pence had to withdraw his name from his re-election race for governor.
Pence’s attorney Matt Morgan filed the paperwork Friday with the Indiana secretary of state, formally withdrawing him from the governor race.
Pence, 57, was born in Columbus, Indiana, a town about 40 miles south of Indianapolis, where his father ran a chain of gas stations.
A former chairman of the House Republican Conference, he was an early tea party ally, but the staunch social conservative struggled in his sole term as governor of Indiana when he got caught in controversy over LGBT rights.
He did, however, shepherd into law a series of tax cuts in Indiana — slightly reducing the state’s income tax and speeding up the phase-out of its inheritance tax. He’s also overseen a state budget that’s in the black.
In addition, he persuaded President Barack Obama’s administration to accept a state-launched alternative to Medicaid as the vehicle for expanded coverage through Obama’s signature health care law.