An hour before Mike Pence gave the biggest speech of his life at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, officials from Donald Trump’s campaign read over the text for the first time.
They made no changes.
Eleven days later, the Republican vice-presidential nominee crafted a statement about the Muslim American parents of an Army officer killed in Iraq. It contained none of the vitriol that Trump had directed at the same family.
Again, no changes.
These moments, confirmed by several campaign aides, reveal an emerging dynamic between this odd-couple Republican ticket: They’re not always on the same page, and they don’t always coordinate.
It happened again, in public, this week: Just one day after Trump had declined to endorse House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in his Wisconsin primary, Pence did so enthusiastically.
In the opening weeks of their partnership, Trump has granted his running mate broad leeway with no precedent in recent presidential campaigns, amplifying differences in style and substance between the Indiana governor and New York real estate mogul. For a campaign whose mantra long has been “Let Trump be Trump,” the guiding principle that has formed around Pence is, as one of the aides put it, “Let Mike be Mike.”
The strategy amounts to a high-risk, high-reward proposition. Trump advisers believe Pence could help repackage the ticket for voters turned off by Trump: Where Trump is brash and bristly, Pence is cool and collected. Trump shoots from the hip, but Pence is cautious.
But at times Trump and Pence deliver contradictory, even awkward messages, as with their statements this week about Ryan. It has become clear that the two men are intentionally speaking to different groups of voters — Trump to frustrated and restive outsiders and Pence to mainstream conservatives and Republican establishment figures. Their apparent lack of coordination, however, gives the partnership an unpredictable cast.
Trump’s capacity to go off-script could also interfere with the strategy. On Thursday, the candidate said at a rally in Portland, Maine, that Pence had called to ask permission before endorsing Ryan — an apparent assertion of his position at the top the ticket.
Those comments came shortly after Pence, traveling with reporters to a rally in Virginia Beach, deflected a question about whether he would endorse Sen. John McCain of Arizona in his upcoming Republican primary.
In contrast to his unequivocal endorsement of Ryan, Pence echoed language used by Trump earlier in the week. “The stakes in this election are so high,” he said, according to NBC. “To restore our country at home and abroad, we need new leadership, and I’m looking forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Donald Trump to drive that new leadership forward.”
It was unclear if Pence was under new instructions to respond that way.
Even children, apparently, have picked up on the dynamic. An 11-year-old named Matthew who asked Pence at an event Thursday morning in Raleigh : “I’ve been watching the news lately, and I’ve been noticing that you’ve kind of been softening up on Mr. Trump’s policies and words. Is this going to be your role in the administration?”
The audience laughed, as did Pence, who quipped, “This boy has got a future!” Pence went on to say that he is “absolutely determined“ to work together with Trump.
“You know, we’ve nominated someone larger than life, known for charisma, so they wanted to kind of balance the ticket,” Pence said. “The differences in style, Matthew, should never be confused with differences in conviction.”
Meanwhile, there is worry among Republicans who like Pence that the arrangement will damage him permanently.
“There are people that hold him in high regard personally that feel sorry for him, that feel sorry that he made the decision because he’s now a passenger on a train whose conductor is apparently mad,” said John Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist who is a strident Trump critic.
Trump said this week that his relationship with Pence has been “phenomenal,” but he didn’t detail how often they communicate directly or how those talks go. The campaign aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said the ticket mates speak to each other every day.
Pence, who served in the House with Ryan, said he discussed his endorsement of the speaker with Trump, who “encouraged” him to go ahead with it.
A former talk-radio host, Pence speaks in a mellow, methodical tone that bears some resemblance to fellow Midwestern radio personality Garrison Keillor. Trump will often abruptly shift from to a conversational volume to a loud yell and back again several times in the span of a single speech.
While Pence strives to hit notes of humility, Trump is often partial to the flat-out brag.
“I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican. In that order,” Pence said at a stop in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.
Speaking in Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday, Trump, in praising retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who introduced him, quipped: “I met him at a ballroom because somebody was being honored. You know who it was? It was me.”
Shortly after Trump tapped Pence as his running made last month, many Republicans were hopeful their differences would serve as complementary forces.
“He does provide some calm for the anxieties of those who worry,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) of Pence in an interview at the Republican National Convention.
“Knowing that he is there at the table is very helpful,” added Cramer, a staunch Trump backer. He predicted the arrangement would herald an “ongoing evolution of thoughts and ideas.”
The arrangement represents a break with tradition in both parties, where presidential nominees typically deploy some of their own advisers to staff their running mates to help ensure coordinated strategy and message, as well as to prevent the vice presidential nominee from “going rogue,” as Sarah Palin did in 2008. For instance, the Democratic campaign of Hillary Clinton installed a senior Clinton adviser, Matt Paul, as Sen. Timothy M. Kaine’s vice-presidential campaign chief of staff, and dispatched longtime Clinton adviser Karen Finney to oversee Kaine’s communications shop.
The Pence team is led by longtime Republican strategist Nick Ayers and includes finance strategist Marty Obst, close confidant Marc Short, and communications operative Marc Lotter, among others. Kellyanne Conway, a longtime strategist and Pence pollster, is also helping with Pence’s strategy, as she advises Trump at the same time.
Trump’s and Pence’s differences extend beyond style to include policy as well.
Trump has proposed banning most foreign Muslims from entering the country over concerns about terrorism. Last December, Pence tweeted: “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.”
When it comes to trade, Trump has campaigned with a protectionist bent, voicing opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was favored by most congressional Republicans and Pence. He has also blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement for job losses in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Trade means jobs, but trade also means security. The time has come for all of us to urge the swift adoption of the Trans Pacific Partnership,” Pence tweeted in September of 2014.
Pence voted in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq. Trump routinely claims that he opposed the war from the start. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has found no sign that Trump opposed the invasion or was vocal about it beforehand.
In their first joint TV interview, Trump brushed off the daylight between him and Pence on Iraq.
“I don’t care,” Trump said bluntly of Pence’s vote on “60 Minutes.”
The team’s distinct roles came into clear view last weekend, after Trump set off a firestorm by saying the Muslim American father of an Army officer killed in Iraq had “no right” to attack him and suggested the man’s wife may have been barred from giving a speech.
Pence issued a statement that seemed designed to smooth the mogul’s rough edges, calling Captain Humayun Khan “an American hero” whose family should be “cherished by every American.” Trump, he said, “will support our military and their families and we will defeat the enemies of our freedom.”
Some of the divergences have been ungainly.
The governor, who has railed generally against political mud-slinging, said in a radio interview last month: “I don’t think name-calling has any place in public life.”
One the same day, Trump was launching signature personal attacks on Twitter against “Crooked” Hilary Clinton and “Little” Michael Bloomberg.
Then there were the sharply contrasting words about Ryan. Trump told The Washington Post on Tuesday: “I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country. We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet.”
The next day, Pence unequivocally endorsed the House speaker, whom he considers a friend. “I believe we need Paul Ryan in leadership in the Congress of the United States to rebuild our military, to strengthen our economy and to ensure that we have the kind of leadership in this country that will make America great again,” Pence said.
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.