CLEVELAND – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence emerged Thursday as Donald Trump’s likely running mate, with allies of Pence and Trump sending increasingly strong signals that Pence would join the GOP ticket and Republican leaders saying they have been told to stand by for an announcement.
But less than 24 hours before Trump was set to reveal his vice-presidential choice at an event in New York, Trump had not made a formal offer, according Republicans familiar with the discussions who spoke mid-afternoon Thursday on the condition of anonymity because the ongoing talks were confidential.
The GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, traveling in California for a series of fundraisers, continued Thursday to solicit advice from his family and aides – and held off, at least into the afternoon, on notifying Pence or any other potential pick of a decision, these Republicans said.
In Indiana, meanwhile, Pence gave an economic speech and then waited with his family and advisers for word from Trump.
Associates of Trump said he has been torn between his gut instincts to tap a fiery combatant or heeding the advice of his advisers to tap the relatively low-key and low-profile Pence, whose elevation to the ticket could help unify the divided Republican Party. Causing further hesitation was Trump’s lack of a close personal bond with Pence, whom he has only gotten to know in recent months.
Trump’s adult children, as well as son-in-law Jared Kushner, have played an influential role guiding Trump’s deliberations and gave him differing advice. Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s eldest son, and Kushner have advocated for former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Ga., even though Trump’s political advisers prefer Pence, according to people close to the family.
Trump’s advisers cautioned on Thursday afternoon that the selection process remained fluid, and Republicans familiar with the celebrity mogul candidate’s deliberations said that he could spring a surprise.
Trump campaign officials, who are working here in Cleveland ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention, said reports that Trump has selected Pence were premature. They did not dispute that Pence would join the ticket, but said that no decision has been formalized.
By mid-afternoon, two senior campaign officials said Trump had not yet called Pence to offer him the job or reached out to any other vice-presidential hopeful. A third official, spokesman Jason Miller, tweeted, “A decision has not been made by Mr. Trump.”
Trump is scheduled to make his first joint appearance with his running mate on Friday at the Hilton hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Should he join forces with Trump, Pence, a deeply conservative former congressman and talk-radio host, could help him unite the disparate blocs within the Republican coalition – especially social conservatives and establishment leaders, who remain skeptical of if not outright hostile to Trump.
A Republican official in touch with Pence’s associates said Thursday morning that Pence told those associates he was convinced after his Wednesday meeting with Trump that he was going to be the pick.
On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers reacted to the reports by showering praise on Pence but cautioned that they, too, had received no word on the selection from Trump or his campaign.
“I’m happy for him and happy for the ticket,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who advises Trump on foreign policy and other issues.
Although Corker added, “I don’t know for real that this is it. . . . I’m surprised. I would have thought they’d be waiting until tomorrow – usually people wait until the last minute to make a decision. So that’s why I’m a little cautious.”
Pence, whose gubernatorial tenure has been marked by controversy over a state law seen as discriminatory against gays, would be a seasoned politician and conservative ideologue at Trump’s side.
He has not always agreed with Trump’s policy ideas, however. Last December, for instance, Pence criticized Trump’s controversial proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Trump has long said he wanted a running mate with governing experience who could help him enact his agenda in Washington. In addition to Pence, Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also were finalists. Both men spoke with Trump on Wednesday during the candidate’s stay in Indiana, following a Tuesday night rally with Pence.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., considered a long-shot candidate but one who has grown close to Trump, also visited with Trump in Indiana and traveled with him to California late Wednesday. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, a registered Democrat, was another person considered by Trump in recent days.
But all morning Thursday, there were signs that Pence had become Trump’s top choice. The governor convened an 8 a.m. meeting in Indianapolis with political allies to go over logistics should he join the ticket, Time magazine reported. Pence has until midday Friday to withdraw from his reelection campaign and remove himself from the Indiana ballot, something he would need to do if he were to run for vice president.
Also Thursday, Marc Lotter, Pence’s deputy campaign manager, was spotted by reporters on a flight from Indianapolis to New York, where Friday’s announcement will be made.
The moves had Pence associates in Indiana abuzz about his likely selection. One of the governor’s top advisers and fundraisers said, “Most everybody in Indiana thinks it’s Pence.”
The selection of Pence would be a calculated overture to the party’s wary right wing and to establishment leaders who have urged the candidate to tap a steady partner.
The hope within Trump’s orbit has been that he could win plaudits from powerful Republicans for going with someone they largely find acceptable – and that he could get a fresh look from general-election voters who have been eager for signs of seriousness from the combative businessman.
Indeed, many GOP lawmakers praised Pence on Thursday.
“Mike Pence has the legislative experience, having been in Congress and been a leader here,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “I think he’d be a good choice, but that doesn’t mean the other guys aren’t good choices, too.”
Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., said picking Pence would be a wise choice by Trump, though he said he had not heard directly from the governor that he had been selected.
“He makes the ticket better from day one,” Messner said. “I think it will be an important step towards bringing the entire coalition behind the Trump ticket.”
But some more moderate Republican lawmakers said they were concerned Pence is too rigidly conservative to help Trump broaden his appeal to the general electorate.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a Trump critic, said the selection of Pence is “not good enough for me” to change his mind about endorsing Trump.
And Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said that despite Pence’s good tone and temperament, he is too conservative on social issues. “If the objective is to broaden the appeal of the party beyond the base, I’m not sure this would be the wisest choice,” he said.
In Pence, a 57-year-old evangelical Christian and father of three, Trump would have a vice-presidential nominee who is relatively little-known nationally but highly regarded by wealthy conservative donors such as the Koch brothers. Pence also provides a vivid contrast in style – with his full head of white hair, folksy demeanor and a smooth Midwestern voice that led him to be called “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” during his broadcasting years.
Whereas Trump is known as a gregarious and fast-talking New Yorker, Pence speaks frequently about God and prayer and refers to his work as “servant leadership.”
Pence often calls himself a “small-town kid who grew up with a cornfield in the back yard and dreaming of serving my country in public office.” Trump grew up the son of a businessman in New York who built a real-estate empire, attending military school and later the Ivy League.
Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and Karoun Demirjian in Washington contributed to this story.