Mike Pence, whose profile in the GOP veepstakes has risen dramatically of late, was not an early favorite to become Donald Trump’s running mate.
The Indiana governor endorsed Ted Cruz in his state’s critical primary, and Pence was committed to running his own race for re-election. Plus, Trump’s inconsistent ideology seemed starkly at odds with Pence’s brand as a steadfast conservative.
But if Trump makes the offer, as has been increasingly rumored, Pence appears poised to accept.
“Most people don’t get to the point of hearing the offer if they aren’t willing to accept,” said Pete Seat, an Indiana Republican strategist. “I think he sees an opportunity to really shape things on a national level.”
A few Republicans have withdrawn from consideration for the post, including Sens. Bob Corker and Joni Ernst. But as Trump has whittled his short list (or as the list has whittled itself), Pence has publicly remained open to the idea, even seemingly eager.
On Tuesday, the two men will put their compatibility to the test when they appear together at a rally near Indianapolis, the latest in a string of public auditions for the running mate role.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also remains high on Trump’s list, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie technically remains in contention. There has been recent buzz around retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a Democrat, but his remarks supporting abortion rights have caused heartburn among some of Trump’s close allies.
Were Trump to select Pence, he would team up with a politician who departs with him significantly on style and substance — who, dating back to his 12-year tenure in Congress, has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Many fellow party members have openly questioned whether any of those labels genuinely fit Trump.
But their contrasts are attractive to some of Trump’s allies, who believe Pence could uniquely balance the ticket. Whereas Trump has succeeded on the strength of his bombast, Pence is far more restrained — “someone who takes a deep breath first, and speaks second,” said one former Pence aide, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the running mate selection process. Pence’s Midwestern style could help Trump appeal to the Rust Belt areas he hopes to target, the aide speculated.
Meanwhile, Pence’s resume boasts of deep Washington experience and connections, which Trump has expressly sought in his running mate. The Indiana governor served more than a decade in the House, including as Republican conference chair, the fourth-ranking leadership position. Still, he maintained a reputation as a conservative firebrand.
“Mike Pence was in Washington, but he never became of Washington,” said his former aide.
And Pence has hinted at interest in running nationally, having considered presidential bids in 2012 and this cycle. Although he opted out both times, running for vice president “is different,” the former aide noted.
“You are not campaigning for the job; you are called to serve, and he is someone who has always heeded the call to service,” the former aide added.
Indeed, Pence has been going through the motions of a potential running mate. He and his wife met with Trump earlier this month at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., where the two men also played a round of golf.
“Spent time with Indiana Governor Mike Pence and family yesterday,” Trump tweeted afterward. “Very impressed, great people!”
Trump is expected to announce his decision this week, with the national convention set to commence Monday in Cleveland. Pence, meanwhile, faces a Friday deadline to withdraw from the Indiana ballot seeking re-election.
Still, an element of suspense remains. Trump has said he values unpredictability, and his VP preferences have seemed to shift on almost a daily basis. Still, a short list has emerged; Gingrich and Flynn have been in the conversation since early May.
But Gingrich and Pence have appeared to crystallize in recent days as the strongest potential candidates, judging by remarks made by Trump’s aides or the candidate himself. Christie does not have Washington political experience, one Trump ally noted; and, if Trump were to select a governor as his running mate, Pence’s record in Indiana would be easier to defend.
Although Gingrich or Christie might be a more ferocious attack dog than Pence, Trump has already assumed this role himself, perhaps opening the door for a more low-key running mate.
Pence, of course, has his own potential pitfalls, including the national backlash he incurred last year over a law that would have allowed Indiana businesses to deny services to gay and lesbian couples. He later changed the law in response to the outcry.
Trump’s campaign has been assessing these pros and cons during a formal vetting process, for which Pence has reportedly submitted documents.
Still, as the chatter about Pence has grown louder, he has nevertheless continued to run his own campaign for re-election. He stopped by the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair on Monday, where he toured barns filled with cattle and swine, according to local reports.
But Indiana Republicans are preparing for Pence to take on another campaign.
Said Seat, “Everyone here is operating as if this is happening.”