Trump’s Post-Pick Pence Panic

But presumptive GOP nominee ended up with running mate he needs

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 16, 2016 at 11:32am

If anything proved the rightness of Donald Trump’s decision to choose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate, it was Trump’s own panic that he might have made a terrible mistake in settling on Pence in the first place.

The process itself was a mess, from the last-minute timing to the hurried final Indiana auditions to the early word that Pence was the pick, first reported by Roll Call.

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Trump Picks Mike Pence

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As more news outlets confirmed that Trump had asked Pence to join the ticket, Trump’s team scrambled to deny that a decision had been made at all. Trump abruptly canceled a planned Friday announcement, ostensibly out of respect of the terror attack in Nice and a move Paul Manafort called “an emotional reaction” to the attack.

But Trump was on the phone calling in to Fox News hours later anyway, teasing that he was yet to settle on a “final, final decision,” even though, keep in mind, he had already offered the job to Pence and Pence had accepted.

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Trump: Pence Was ‘First Choice’ for VP

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Was Trump building buzz or getting cold feet? CNN’s Dana Bash reported the latter, saying Trump called aides late into the night asking if it was too late to un-ask Pence to be his running mate and have Pence un-accept. Backed into a corner, and by no fault of his own,
Trump ended up with the running mate he needs, if not the one he hoped to have.

Trump’s real favorite

Trump’s real favorite for the job was apparently New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie , a like-minded gut-thinker who would more than satisfy Trump’s earlier hope for a “cold-blooded killer” to join the ticket and hit the cable airwaves every day to hammer the Clintons for their ethical shortcomings. 

But with Christie’s top aide being convicted of a felony relating to the”Bridgegate” investigation, he has become a fatally flawed messenger to attack anyone, even the Clintons, for abusing their power to settle personal scores.

There was also the matter of Christie putting Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father in the clink years ago, a sin few sons could possibly forgive, no matter the quality of the arguments from the prosecutor who made them.

Another attack dog

The next possibility was Newt Gingrich, the big-thinking former speaker of the House who could no doubt have told Trump how Congress works, or at least how it used to work 20 years ago before a coup cost him his speakership.

Gingrich had the same attack dog quality of Christie, with a more professorial flair. And although Gingrich was a favorite of the Trump kids, what Trump really needed was a grown-up on the ticket.

Gingrich’s fondness for zoos, moon colonies, and talking out of turn made him a wildcard going into the process. His Thursday night pitch to screen all American Muslims for Sharia leanings made it clear that having Trump and Gingrich doing policy on the fly would be too much for any campaign to survive.

Enter Mike Pence, a favorite of only Manafort, but a man every one else could live with. Was he Trump’s favorite? Not really. Was he Trump’s best pick? Absolutely.

You know about Pence’s Hill and statehouse resume, his conservative credentials, and his Christian conservative bona fides (he literally was an altar boy). You will soon know all about the many ways that Pence and Trump have disagreed on policy in the past over the Muslim ban, NAFTA, funding for Planned Parenthood… The list goes on.

But disagreement with Trump on issues is what conservatives want to see in the GOP running mate, not what they want to avoid.

The most important quality Trump gets by adding Pence to his ticket is the fact that Pence is a professional. He has a staff, a fundraising network, a legislative team and a governing philosophy, all the trappings of political leadership that Trump has dismissed as boring or a waste of money that also happen to be required to win elections.

The vice presidential selection process has revealed the strengths and weaknesses of all four of these men.

Gingrich has been a freelancer. 
Christie a placater. Trump has been indecisive and scattered, preoccupied with the show-business end of the job but not the attributes required for a person to potentially govern.

Pence has been as he was in his Capitol Hill days for those who knew him then — discreet, focused, business as usual.

Trump may have wanted a sidekick on the campaign trail, but what he clearly needs is an adult in the room.

If the room ends up being the Oval Office, Pence was Trump’s best choice.

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy
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