Trump’s VP search enters frenzied phase
INDIANAPOLIS (CNN) — Donald Trump’s vice presidential search turned into a head-spinning melodrama Wednesday as candidates vying for the spot hopped on planes and phones to perform frenzied, last-minute try-outs.
For much of the morning, Indiana was the unlikely center of the political world.
Trump stayed in the state after campaigning with Gov. Mike Pence Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Trump, along with his children Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka, had breakfast with Pence at the governors mansion. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also met with Trump in Indiana and was seen leaving a hotel in the same motorcade as Trump’s children. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions jumped on a plane in Washington heading for Indianapolis to meet with Trump.
Trump also spoke to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the phone and the conversation included talk about the vice presidency.
The drama unfolded as Trump is expected to make an announcement about his running mate as early as Friday.
The process of choosing a vice presidential partner is a crucial one that often provides early insights into how a nominee might approach the presidency. In Trump’s case, the feverish endgame of his search suggests a penchant for intrigue an unpredictable streak and above all a desire to make a splash as the comings and goings Wednesday triggered a media circus.
The lobby of the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis suddenly became the epicenter of the 2016 campaign — with reporters and passersby straining for a sighting of Trump or any of his possible running mates, speculation running rife about the former reality star’s intentions.
Next door, at The Capital Grille, local politicians and lobbyists buzzed about what the future held in store for homeboy Pence who rocketed up the list of possible vice presidential nominees after spending significant face time with Trump in the last few days.
With Trump’s mind not yet made up, the intrigue focused attention on exactly what kind of qualities the GOP presumptive nominee is looking for in a running mate.
One of the biggest questions is whether he will opt for someone with a reputation as a partisan scrapper who could defend him in the media and lambast Democrat Hillary Clinton, or if he will choose someone viewed as a safer political partner who could bring more sobriety to his volatile campaign.
One source said Trump wants a “fighter” and Christie — the tough talking former prosecutor and fits the bill.
“I’m getting attacked from all sides,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. Though he was not in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Christie, one of the first major politicians to back Trump before he captured the nomination is still very much under consideration, multiple sources told CNN reporters.
“Trump’s gut is Christie,” one source said. The New Jersey governor was spending the day in back-to-back meetings in Washington as he prepares the Republican presumptive nominee’s presidential transition.
If Trump wants someone more conventional he could turn to Pence. The Indiana governor has credibility with social conservatives who are among the most suspicious of Republican Party constituencies towards Trump in the GOP.
Trump and Pence met privately before a fundraiser in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening, and then Pence got a try-out at a rally in nearby Westfield. The Trumps and Pences dined together at the Capital Grille in Indianapolis staying past midnight.
A source close to Pence told CNN’s MJ Lee that when asked about the vice presidential race that it “sure feels like Pence.” But noting the sheer unpredictability of dealing with the man making the decision they emphasized : “This is Trump we are talking about.”
When CNN asked how the breakfast with Pence went on Wednesday, Trump gave a thumbs-up. An adviser said the encounter was “cordial” but added that the billionaire had yet to finalize his decision on a running mate.
At Tuesday’s rally, Pence slammed Clinton, saying that “to paraphrase the director of the FBI, I think it would be ‘extremely careless’ to elect Hillary Clinton as president.”
Earlier in the day, Pence had lavished Trump with praise, comparing him to Ronald Reagan and used the phrase “make America great again” when he spoke with reporters after an event in Indianapolis.
“I think he is someone who has connected with everyday Americans like no one since Ronald Reagan,” Pence said. “I think he has spoken into the frustration and the longings of the American people as no one since the 40th president, and I think you’re going to continue to see him do that.”
A Trump adviser however disputed conventional wisdom that Pence could steady or moderate the voluble Republican presumptive nominee on the stump. In fact, this person said, having him as a more temperate running mate could prompt Trump to become even more bombastic.
“Mike is not going to go and defend Trump the way he needs it — the way a Newt or a Christie would, or even the way a Sessions has,” the adviser said.
Some donors are pressuring Trump to pick Gingrich as his vice president.
A source close to Sheldon Adelson told CNN that the casino magnate spoke to Trump and said that “he liked Newt.”
Trump even reached out again to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, after a donor encouraged him to make the call over the weekend — even though Rice has made clear she doesn’t want the job.
The strongest argument for Christie, in his camp’s mind: He’s the most effective attack dog — a quality he’s proven in speeches and on the presidential primary debate stage.
However, sources said it’s clear Kushner opposes the idea of Christie — though the two have developed a working relationship in recent months.
“It’s obviously out there and it doesn’t help. We’re just not sure if it hurts,” a source close to Christie said.
According to another source familiar with the process, Christie is interested in the vice president job but not “campaigning for it.”
The source said Christie has not heard from Trump regarding his decision or the timing.
“It’s clearly serious. He’s clearly in the final group,” the source said.
A Trump adviser said this is essentially a last chance for these guys to each make their pitch.
“That’s exactly what these guys are doing right now – is saying ‘here’s why I’m better than X.’ ”
In addition to Christie’s governing experience, this source said Christie’s skills on the debate stage and the campaign trail could be appealing to Trump.
“He’s a gifted debater,” the source said, and “the most publicity that any VP candidate is going to get is the debate.”