NEW YORK — At a news conference to introduce his newly announced running mate to his supporters, Donald Trump took the stage alone Saturday morning and then spent 28 minutes talking about all sorts of things with only brief mentions of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
In those moments, Trump described Pence as his “partner” and his “first choice,” despite media reports that the presumptive Republican nominee was uneasy with the selection. Trump noted that Pence “looks very good” and has an “incredible family,” plus the two of them are “law and order candidates” who can defeat a “weak” Hillary Clinton. Although Trump was unscripted for most of his remarks, he usually carefully read from a script whenever referencing Pence and sharing statistics from Indiana. He repeatedly noted that he “won big” in Indiana’s Republican primary, even though Pence didn’t endorse him.
“If you look at one of the big reasons that I chose Mike — and, one of the reasons is party unity, I have to be honest,” Trump said. “So many people have said: Party unity. Because I’m an outsider. I don’t want to be an outsider.”
But most of Trump’s focus on Saturday morning was not on Pence. Trump reacted to the recent attack in France and the failed coup in Turkey, repeatedly attacked Clinton, his presumptive Democratic opponent, touted his primary victories and called for religious leaders to be allowed to endorse presidential candidates. Sometimes he would transition back to the purpose of the news conference by saying things like: “Back to Mike Pence…”
After 28 minutes, Trump called Pence onstage. In a six-second interaction, the two men shook hands, and Trump patted Pence on his left shoulder. As Pence took his place behind a lectern labeled “TRUMP,” the presumptive Republican nominee used his right thumb to point at Pence, then applauded and left the stage.
In speaking for about 12 minutes, Pence was scripted and prepared, patiently waiting for applause at the appropriate times. He introduced himself to the small crowd of invited guests — and, more importantly, viewers at home — describing himself as “a pretty basic guy: a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Pence praised God for bringing him this opportunity and his family for supporting him.
He described Trump as a “good man” and touted several of his campaign promises. He said he was “deeply humbled” to be at Trump’s side, but also made clear that he received the call from Trump on Wednesday, even though the presumptive nominee publicly publicly said he was undecided up until late Thursday evening.
“Donald Trump understands the frustrations and the hopes of the American people like no leader since Ronald Reagan. The American people are tired,” Pence said. “We’re tired of being told that this is as good as it gets. We’re tired of having politicians in both parties in Washington D.C. tell us: We’ll get to those problems tomorrow.”
Presidential hopefuls will often pick running mates who can help them win swing states, appeal to a certain voting demographic or fire up the base if their pick didn’t become the nominee. With Pence, Trump gets a partner who can lock down the votes of conservatives who make up the party’s base without overly exciting them or casting even a trace of a shadow on Trump’s dominating personality. Pence is a nice Midwestern guy, the sort who doesn’t seem to like to go negative or make news.
Pence’s first lengthy comments about being named veep came during a friendly — sometimes uncomfortably friendly — interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Friday night. The interview introduced or reintroduced Pence to conservatives, while showcasing all of the reasons why Trump’s campaign chief, Paul Manafort, was pushing for his boss to pick Pence.
“It has been very humbling, very overwhelming,” Pence said with a subtle smile as he described accepting Trump’s offer. “When I called my mother and told her that we had accepted Donald Trump’s selection as vice president, there were tears on both ends of the call. This is a tremendous honor for our family.”
Pence praised Trump as “the people’s choice” who “understands the anxiety and the aspiration of the American people like no leader since Reagan.” He chuckled off attacks from Democrats, many of whom consider him “extreme,” and said that he’s “a conservative but I’m not in a bad mood about it.” And he willingly jumped on board with Trump’s controversial campaign promises, including a few that he had previously opposed.
“I am very supportive of Donald Trump’s call to temporarily suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States,” Pence said, even though he had previously tweeted that Trump’s original call for a ban on nearly all foreign Muslims “offensive and unconstitutional.”
When Hannity asked if Pence wants to build a wall on the southern border, Pence responded: “Absolutely.”
“Is Mexico going to pay for it?” Hannity asked.
“Absolutely,” Pence said.
Then there’s the war in Iraq, which Trump has claimed that he always opposed, despite making comments to the contrary at the time, and which Pence aggressively supported while in Congress.
“Well, look, I think reasonable people can differ on whether or not we should have gone into Iraq,” Pence said, then stealthily launching into an attack on President Obama.