NEW YORK — It was a day of scripted and unscripted moments as Donald Trump’s vice presidential selection played out on live television Wednesday.
As reporters chased him across Indianapolis with cameras rolling, Trump stepped up his running mate try-outs to another level, spending time bonding with three potential candidates—four members of his family at his side to help him make the big decision. Then, at day’s end, the billionaire previewed his next episode.
“I will be making the announcement of my Vice Presidential pick on Friday at 11 a.m. in Manhattan,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Details to follow.”
“It’s just ‘The Apprentice’ without a board room,” said Republican media consultant Rick Wilson, referring to Trump’s former reality TV show.
Trump was supposed to be at home in New York City Wednesday, but in an unexpected plot twist, found himself spending the night in Indiana thanks to a broken tire on his private jet.
He ate breakfast with Indiana Governor Mike Pence at the governor’s mansion, then huddled with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a private room at an upscale Indianapolis hotel, before flying with Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to California for a fundraiser Wednesday night.
Along the way, the GOP presumptive nominee kept viewers guessing, only revealing cryptically that he had trimmed his list down to “three. Potentially four.”
“But,” he added in an interview with Fox News, “in my own mind, I’m probably thinking about two.”
Trump has seemed to relish putting his decision making process on display, and adding reality TV flair to the proceedings.
Republicans in Cleveland said they were impressed with this show, and newly excited by the prospect of a successful convention because Trump shows he seems to be finding the sweet spot between teleprompters and loose rants.
“I don’t think anybody can predict what Donald Trump’s going to do, but I do really like the manner in which he’s doing it,” Jeff Cardwell, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party told Bloomberg in between sessions of the Republican National Committee meeting in Cleveland Wednesday.
The drama and giddy VP speculation started on Tuesday after reporters spotted Trump and three of his adult children—Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric—entering Pence’s Indianapolis home, along with Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign strategist Paul Manafort.
When they emerged than an hour later, Trump and Pence posed arm-in-arm for a photo, shook hands with each other and waved to the reporters gathered on the sidewalk nearby.
Trump has been spending a sizable amount of time with Pence, a former US congressman who could help the political novice build relationships in Washington and gain credibility with social conservatives.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, Trump and Pence played golf together and gathered with their wives and one of Pence’s daughters. Tuesday night, after their appearances at a Trump campaign rally and a fundraiser, they had dinner together at the Conrad Indianapolis, an upscale hotel, people familiar with the matter said.
Pence offered a stream of not-so-subtle tweets as he pushed to be the VP choice.
“We will not rest until we elect @realDonaldTrump as the next President of the United States of America!” Pence said on Twitter on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Pence told reporters his conversation with the Trumps focused on “the progress the state of Indiana has made, and how we’ve been able to have balanced budgets, make record investments in education, in infrastructure, even health care, and still cut taxes every year that I’ve been governor.”
Pence described the Trumps as “a good family.”
“It’s great to have them in Indiana, great to have a chance to break bread. Nothing was offered. Nothing was accepted,” he said.
Later in the day, Gingrich huddled with Trump, the kids and Manafort and it went well, people familiar with the meeting told Bloomberg, who said Trump thinks he has “great options” for a running mate. Reached by phone, Gingrich declined to comment.
Wilson argued that the upside of Gingrich as VP is that “like Trump, he’s a flamethrower and a showman.”
“He’s morally flexible enough to glide over any policy disagreements he might have, and enough of a student of history to know how to play to the Great Man’s ego and narcissism,” Wilson told Bloomberg Politics. “The downside of Newt is his florid, overwrought intellect, a retelling of the entire Clinton Wars 1.0 narrative, and his general lack of focus from moment to moment.”
Christie, Wilson said, would be “the most reliable lackey for a man who loves a good lackey.”
The downside? “He doesn’t bring you New Jersey. He doesn’t bring you any demographic of Republican Trump doesn’t already have,” Wilson said.
GOP strategist Curt Anderson said he’d be shocked to see Trump pick Gingrich or Christie.
“Both are uncontrollable, and known to go rogue from time to time,” Anderson said.
“The Pence thing both makes sense and is odd to me,” Anderson said. “Governor Pence is charismatically challenged. But that may be the very reason he is under consideration.”
Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, who will visit the Ohio delegation at the GOP convention but won’t be speaking, said the general chatter he hears about vice presidential possibilities includes Pence and Gingrich, as well as former Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, who aren’t believed to be on Trump’s short list.
“I think all of them bring something very positive to the campaign,” Portman told Bloomberg Politics. “Then the question is what do they bring to governing? I hope he picks someone who knows how to get things done in this town.”
Roy Blunt, a congressman from Missouri, who knew Pence well during Pence’s 12 years in Congress, said the Indiana Republican would “be a fine addition to the ticket.”
“I think as a candidate Donald Trump particularly benefits now from who he surrounds himself with because that’s the way to send a message to the country as to the way he would conduct himself as president,” Blunt said. “I think VP choice matters. I think other people that he engages either as advisers or surrogates between now and November will send an important signal to the American people as to how he’ll govern.”
Fox News Channel suspended its contributor agreement with Gingrich “effective immediately,” it said in a statement Tuesday, citing political speculation that could pose a conflict of interest.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Tuesday, Trump said he wanted a running mate who could be a “fighter skilled in hand-to-hand combat,” a description seen as more fitting of Gingrich and Christie than of the more mild-mannered Pence.
“Who Trump chooses doesn’t matter even a little bit,” Anderson said. “By this fall it will all be about Trump versus Hillary, and no one will care at all or base their votes on who the VP candidates are.”
Cardwell, the Indiana GOP chairman, said Trump’s Indiana fundraising event Tuesday had a US$500,000 (RM1.97 million) goal, and that the campaign more than tripled that amount.
“A lot of people are very excited about his campaign, his candidacy, and it’s picking up a lot of steam,” Cardwell said. — Bloomberg