People surrounding Donald Trump have different answers to who’s leading his running-mate search, another instance of tension between loyalists as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee gears up for the general election.
Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is in charge of the vetting team, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing two unidentified Republicans. That led to questions about what happened to Ben Carson, a former rival whom Trump had tapped to oversee the selection process. A top Carson adviser, Armstrong Williams, told Bloomberg Politics on Tuesday the retired doctor’s work on the search is done, though he’ll continue to help Trump in other ways. Roger Stone, a longtime Trump insider, said it’s not true that Lewandowski’s in charge.
What’s going on?
Trump, in interviews with the Associated Press and Fox News this week, said the search for a No. 2 is a “group effort” that includes Carson, Lewandowski, strategist Paul Manafort, and himself.
“Honestly, we’re all running it,” Trump said.
The outspoken Stone, in an interview with Bloomberg Politics on Tuesday, accused Lewandowski of “overselling” his role in the running-mate search.
“He’s crowing about the responsibility of a clerk,” Stone said. “This kind of self-aggrandizement doesn’t serve the candidate well.”
Asked about Stone’s comments, Lewandowski declined to comment other than to refer to Trump’s own words.
Stone said in reality, Trump’s the only one in charge. “He will interview everyone who’s a serious contender,” Stone said. “That’s why the choice will be outside the box. I think it’ll be daring.”
Infighting has plagued the campaign since Trump hired Manafort, a former business associate of Stone’s, in late March when it looked like Republicans were heading to a contested national convention. Manafort, who said he was tasked with bringing structure to the campaign in the crucial final weeks of the primary, assumed authority over some tasks formerly held by Lewandowski. Reports of power struggles between the two men and their allies sprouted in the press.
Lewandowski remains one of Trump’s closest advisers. He has been with the campaign since the beginning, and Trump chooses to have him at his side almost constantly on the campaign trail.
How is Trump reacting to the mixed reports about who’s in charge of his own search? Stone said the candidate isn’t dwelling on the matter and is focused on his message about likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Voters don’t care about staff responsibilities or process,” Stone said.
Lewandowski told Fox News on Tuesday, “I’m part of a team.”
“We’re going to present Mr. Trump some recommendations and he will make the decision of who he thinks should be his running mate and who will be a partner in the government to make sure he can accomplish his legislative agenda,” he said.
For Carson and his associates, the turn of events has proven confusing.
“Yes, Mr. Trump wanted Dr. Carson to head up the search,” senior aide Armstrong Williams told Bloomberg. “But it doesn’t take any more than two weeks to recommend names of vice presidential candidates.”
Williams said Carson’s role with helping pick Trump’s running mate is over and that the former White House candidate doesn’t wish to be considered for the ticket or for a Trump cabinet position.
“We never knew there was a committee. We just thought that they were asking him to submit a name. He asked him to help find a vice presidential running mate—but he wasn’t asked to spearhead any committee.”
There’s “nothing but love between Carson and the House of Trump,” said Williams, who was eager to try to clear up questions about what happened. Carson’s not in any formal position, but is still aiding Trump, he said.
“What we’re saying is that we’re doing something different since we’ve completed what they asked us to do,” Williams said. “Dr. Carson is stronger and more effective as a surrogate if he doesn’t have a formal position.”
In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney selected Beth Myers, a lawyer and longtime confidante, to head the team selecting a No. 2. The secretive vetting process included reviewing potential running mates’ tax filings; studying their answers to a lengthy questionnaire about their personal lives and career histories; probing for possible landmines in their pasts; scouring videos of their public appearances; examining their families’ personal and professional lives; and testing their compatibility with Romney.
Romney picked Paul Ryan, who’s now the U.S. House speaker due to meet with Trump on Thursday amid policy disagreements that Ryan says are preventing him from endorsing Trump so far.
Trump has rewritten the rules for presidential campaigning, so it’s little surprise that his running-mate search is unorthodox as well.
The real-estate developer and TV personality has said he’ll likely choose a running mate with the government experience he lacks. Trump told the Associated Press he has a list of five to six people and didn’t rule out New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who’s running his transition planning.
Another former Trump rival, Ohio Governor John Kasich, is said to have received overtures from Trump staffers trying to gauge his interest—talks that have gone nowhere.