Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his running mate serves to calm the party’s conservatives but the way Trump did it is a fresh reminder that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee appears to make decisions impulsively.
The vice presidential candidate rollout was a potential opportunity for the unpredictable and volatile Trump to demonstrate presidential mettle.
Trump was supposed to appear with his pick at a New York City press conference at 11 a.m. Friday. Thursday evening, however, Trump postponed the event “in light of the horrible attack in Nice, France.”
If that suggested he was stepping back from partisan politics, it was not the result. He went on two prime time Fox News shows Thursday evening, blasting likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as “very weak” and someone who “has caused much of the problem” the nation faces with terrorism.
And Friday, mere minutes before his postponed news conference was supposed to have convened, Trump went ahead and announced his choice of Pence, only via Twitter rather than in person as planned.
The Republican convention will open Monday in an unsettled atmosphere rarely seen in modern times. While these events are usually dominated by party bigwigs explaining policy and lauding the nominee, this one will be largely friends and family extolling the virtues of Trump.
“We’ll really go through and explain where Mr. Trump is coming from,” said Don McGahn, a Washington election lawyer and top legal adviser to Trump.
We see this as a unifying moment.
Don McGahn, Trump legal adviser, on his hopes for the convention
The encouraging news for Trump is that Pence is an asset, glue that can bind the delegates and help them navigate through the uncertainty. He brings a new sort of balance to the Trump ticket. His calm manner marks a striking contrast to the short-fused Trump.
“We don’t need more personality on the ticket,” said Mike Stuart, Trump’s West Virginia co-chairman.
Pence checks so many boxes Trump has had trouble filling. He has a sterling conservative congressional voting record.
“He was so impressive in Congress, never offensive,” said Pat Longo, veteran Republican committeewoman from Connecticut, which houses one of the nation’s most moderate Republican parties.
The Pence pick gives Republican insiders a needed opportunity to exhale. Trump spent the past year insulting them as the head-in-the-sand establishment with hands out to Wall Street and feet stuck in bureaucratic mud. He comes to Cleveland next week to face a convention that, while it will nominate him for president, isn’t all that enthusiastic and lacking dozens of familiar Republican names.
Republicans don’t know Trump, but they think they know Pence.
This is a great day for conservatism and great news for conservatives.
American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp on the Pence selection
Pence’s task will be tough. Not only will he have to defend a running mate whose seat-of-the-pants ways and tough-guy style are the opposite of his own, but he’s about to endure having the media and Democrats pry into every moment of his life.
There are already some bumps, notably Pence’s decision last year first to sign legislation allowing businesses “religious freedom,” which gay rights groups saw as a license to discriminate. against them. After pressure from corporations and convention organizers, Pence relented and signed a softer version.
A lot of conservatives were furious and still are. “It’s a mark against him,” said John Everett, a Colorado delegate.
Otherwise, they’ll welcome Pence, and unlike the unpredictable Trump, they can rely on Pence to spread a strong conservative message.
Pence also could make Clinton shift her vice presidential strategy. She could be thinking two ways – either she needs to match the GOP base’s enthusiasm for Pence by picking someone who will stir equal numbers of loyal Democrats, or she sees an opening in the political middle, which will have a hard time embracing Pence.
Clinton has a problem similar to the one faced by Trump. Her party’s liberal wing was smitten by Sen. Bernie Sanders and so far, she’s only won over 57 percent of his supporters, according to last week’s McClatchy-Marist Poll. A Pence of the left would rally that base.
Clinton led Trump, 46 to 33 percent, among moderates in the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll. Fourteen percent were undecided.
But it’s also tempting to look at that bloc of independent voters who could see Pence as too extreme or even indecisive. The poll found nearly one in four independents hasn’t decided on a candidate.
All that said, his presence alone won’t win the election for Trump. Voters time and time again have shown they vote for president, not vice president.
In recent elections, losing tickets’ vice presidents didn’t carry their home swing states (Paul Ryan, Wisconsin, 2012, John Edwards, North Carolina, 2004, Jack Kemp, New York, 1996). Or they came from states that were going to vote for the ticket anyway (Sarah Palin, 2008, Joe Lieberman, 2000).
Studies compiled by Sabato’s Crystal Ball show the vice presidential candidate’s influence in his own state is anywhere from negligible to 2 percent. President Barack Obama won Indiana in 2008 by 1 percentage point and lost it four years later by 10.
Pence’s chief value will be reassurer-in-chief. He’ll probably campaign in smaller venues, offering a reliable conservative message and mingling effortlessly with voters.
He’ll be overshadowed by Trump, who has an ability to dominate political dialogue nonstop with his tornadic personality. And chances are in the days ahead, when people ask about Pence, they’ll ask not about the man himself, but about the chaotic way the choice was announced.