Trump’s VP announcement happening Friday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Donald Trump’s vice presidential search turned into a head-spinning melodrama Wednesday as candidates vying for the spot hopped on planes and phones to perform frenzied, last-minute try-outs.
Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, told CNN Wednesday evening that Trump will make his announcement Friday in New York. But for much of the day, Indiana was the unlikely center of the political world.
Trump stayed in the state after campaigning with Gov. Mike Pence Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Trump, along with his children Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka, had breakfast with Pence at the governor’s mansion. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also met with Trump in Indiana and was seen leaving a hotel in the same motorcade as Trump’s children.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions also arrived in Indianapolis to meet with Trump, though sources said the senator would be serving in an advisory role, rather than a potential VP discussion.
Trump also spoke to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the phone and the conversation included talk about the vice presidency.
The meetings held in Indiana were done so to allow Trump more time with Pence, a Trump spokesperson said.
But the plan to fly GIngrich and Sessions to Indiana appeared to be more of a last-minute scramble, since sources told CNN Tuesday night that he was spending the night because Trump’s plan had mechanical issues.
Intrigue in Indianapolis
The drama unfolded as Trump is expected to make an announcement about his running mate as early as Friday.
The presumptive nominee has not yet made a final decision. But he said in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Bair that he was trimming his short-list.
“I’m narrowing it down. I mean I’m at three, potentially four. But in my own mind, I probably am thinking about two,” he said.
The process of choosing a vice presidential partner is a crucial one that often provides early insight into how a nominee might approach the presidency.
Most presumptive nominees operate their vice presidential search quest under intense secrecy with potential candidates sneaking to cloak-and-dagger meetings to avoid the press and maintain the element of surprise ahead of the final announcement.
But Trump’s process has been the opposite. He’s publicly given potential nominees a trial run on the campaign trail. And the feverish endgame of his search suggests a penchant for intrigue, an unpredictable streak and above all a desire to make a splash as the comings and goings Wednesday triggered a media circus.
The lobby of the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis suddenly became the epicenter of the 2016 campaign — with reporters and passersby straining for a sighting of Trump or any of his possible running mates, speculation running rife about the former reality star’s intentions.
Next door, at The Capital Grille, local politicians and lobbyists buzzed about what the future held in store for homeboy Pence, who rocketed up the list of possible vice presidential nominees after spending significant face time with Trump in the last few days.
Donald Trump Jr. summed up the whirlwind developments with a tweet: “Amazing trip to Indiana today. Fast but very productive.”
With Trump’s mind not yet made up, the intrigue focused attention on exactly what kind of qualities the GOP presumptive nominee is looking for in a running mate.
One of the biggest questions is whether he will opt for someone with a reputation as a partisan scrapper who could defend him in the media and lambast Democrat Hillary Clinton, or if he will choose someone viewed as a safer political partner who could bring more sobriety to his volatile campaign.
One source said Trump wants a “fighter” and Christie — the tough talking former prosecutor — fits the bill.
“I’m getting attacked from all sides,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. Though he was not in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Christie, one of the first major politicians to back Trump before he captured the nomination, is still very much under consideration, multiple sources told CNN reporters.
“Trump’s gut is Christie,” one source said. The New Jersey governor was spending the day in back-to-back meetings in Washington as he leads Trump’s transition team.
Trump spoke of his kinship with Christie on Fox, with whom several sources said, he talks every day.
“I tell you, Chris Christie is somebody I’ve liked a long time; he’s a total professional. He’s a good guy, by the way, a lot of people don’t understand that,” he said.
“It’s clearly serious. He’s clearly in the final group,” a source familiar with the process said.
If Trump wants someone more conventional, he could turn to Pence. The Indiana governor has credibility with social conservatives who are among the most suspicious of Republican Party constituencies towards Trump.
Trump and Pence met privately before a fundraiser in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening, and then Pence got a try-out at a rally in nearby Westfield. The Trumps and Pences dined together at the Capital Grille in Indianapolis, staying past midnight.
A source close to Pence told CNN’s MJ Lee that when asked about the vice presidential race it “sure feels like Pence.” But noting the sheer unpredictability of dealing with the man making the decision, they emphasized: “This is Trump we are talking about.”
When CNN asked how the breakfast with Pence went on Wednesday, Trump gave a thumbs-up. An adviser said the encounter was “cordial” but added that the billionaire had yet to finalize his decision on a running mate.
At Tuesday’s rally, Pence slammed Clinton, saying that “to paraphrase the director of the FBI, I think it would be ‘extremely careless’ to elect Hillary Clinton as president.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Pence said he was “humbled to be a part” of the process.
“Trump’s giving it very careful consideration,” he told reporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I’m just honored to be on that list.”
Choice not yet made
A Trump adviser however disputed conventional wisdom that Pence could steady or moderate the voluble Republican presumptive nominee on the stump. In fact, this person said, having him as a more temperate running mate could prompt Trump to become even more unconventional.
“Mike is not going to go and defend Trump the way he needs it — the way a Newt or a Christie would, or even the way a Sessions has,” the adviser said.
Some donors are pressuring Trump to pick Gingrich as his vice president.
A source close to Sheldon Adelson told CNN that the casino magnate spoke to Trump and said that “he liked Newt.”
Marking the unpredictability of the state of affairs, Trump was still making calls to people in recent days.
Trump even reached out again to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, after a donor encouraged him to make the call over the weekend. Rice, though, doesn’t want the job, according to a separate source familiar with the process.
At a fundraiser in the Hamptons last weekend, The New York Times reported: “When an attendee suggested Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, Mr. Trump said they had irreconcilable differences over the Iraq War.”