By Stephen Collinson
(CNN) — Donald Trump formally unveiled Mike Pence as his running mate Saturday, candidly saying he hoped the pick would unite the fractured Republican Party, in a typically unconventional rollout event that was more about the man at the top of the ticket than his new sidekick.
The presumptive Republican nominee introduced the Indiana governor at a Manhattan hotel two days before the start of the Republican National Convention. It was a spectacle that underscored the odd couple nature of the GOP ticket, that now unites Trump, a brash, volatile outsider with a sparse ideological track record, with Pence, a strait-laced, disciplined warrior of the social conservative movement.
“He’s really got the skills of a highly talented executive,” Trump said, adding, “Mike Pence is a man of honor character and honestly. We know that. Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of corruption.”
In his quintessential style, Trump diverted repeatedly from his speech introducing Pence to hail his own achievements in winning the Republican nomination. He seemed to spend as much time crowing about his own qualities — including predictions that there would be more terror attacks in Europe for instance — as about the record of Pence himself and his suitability to be one heartbeat away from the presidency.
The event took place after a chaotic vice presidential selection process, that included an eleventh-hour period of late night second guessing by Trump on Thursday about whether he had made the right choice, multiple sources have told CNN.
Trump sought to refute such reporting.
“Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is my first choice. I also admire the fact that he fights for the people and he also is going to fight for you. He is a solid, solid person,” Trump said, praising Pence for leading his state well despite what he said was obstruction from the Obama administration.
The real estate mogul also acknowledged that the need to coalesce conservative support around his candidacy factored into his decision.
“I think if you look at one of the big reasons that I chose Mike — and one of the reasons is party unity, I have to be honest. So many people have said party unity. Because I’m an outsider. I want to be an outsider. I think it’s one of the reasons I won in landslides.”
Belatedly, after another set of digressions — including one praising his children’s role in converting the Old Post Office building in Washington D.C. into a luxury hotel — Trump returned to the reasons he had picked Pence to serve on his presidential ticket, primarily his work in Indiana.
“The turnaround and the strength of Indiana has been incredible, and I learned that when I campaigned there. And I learned that when I won that state in a landslide,” Trump said.
Trump’s approach to unveiling his vice presidential nominee characteristically broke all the normal conventions of politics.
When he finally came to the end of his speech, he shook Pence’s hand briefly and patted him on the shoulder, before quickly leaving the stage.
There was none of the stagecraft that such a moment would normally contain an embrace or both candidates raising their clasped hands to the ceiling in a show of political vitality and unity, for instance.
He did, however, later tweet a picture of the Trump and Pence families posing together off stage.
Trump’s attention to his own record did not go unnoticed by the Clinton campaign.
“We were prepared to respond with the many ways in which Mike Pence is the most extreme pick in a generation — a doubling down of Trump’s divisive rhetoric and policies,” the campaign said in a statement. “But after publicly waffling over his own choice, Trump spent more time today making false attacks on Hillary Clinton — several of which could also be leveled against Pence — and talking about his own businesses than his own running mate. It turns out, you can force Trump to make a choice and give him a speech, he’s always going to be Trump.”
In his characteristic tell-all style, Trump also took the unusual step of reminding the audience that Pence had not even initially endorsed him in the Republican primary race, recalling how the Indiana governor had backed Ted Cruz in the GOP primary — but had actually seemed to favor him. “It was the single greatest non-endorsement I have had in my life,” Trump said.
A source familiar with the meeting told CNN Saturday that a week before Pence backed Cruz, the Ricketts family in Chicago, which financed much of the anti-Trump advertising barrage during the primary, urged him to support the Texas senator to help stop Trump.
Pence, after he was finally introduced, lavished praise on Trump and his family.
“I accept your invitation to run and serve as vice president of the United States of America,” Pence said.
“Donald Trump is a good man and he will make a great president of the United States of America,” Pence added.
Unlike Trump, Pence appeared to stick to his script, delivering a conventional speech for a vice presidential nominee, praising God, his family and offering a rundown of his political career and his fidelity to conservatism.
He also offered a preview of how he will lay into the campaign of Clinton, the Democratic presumptive nominee, and stump on behalf of Trump. He said the terror attacks in France and the coup attempt in Turkey were evidence of a “world spinning apart.”
“History teaches us that weakness arouses evil. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s foreign policy of leading from behind, moving red lines, feigning resets with a resurgent Russia and the rise of ISIS is a testament to this truth of history and we must bring a change to America’s stand in the world,” Pence said.
“We cannot have four more years apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends,” he added.
His remarks were mirrored by Trump’s own attacks on Clinton during the event, and pointed to the campaign’s emerging attempt to cast the billionaire as a law and order candidate who can take the tough decisions to keep Americans safe.
“The Middle East today is more unstable than ever before. Never been like this. Out of control. After four years of Clinton, who really led the way and led Obama down a horrible path.”
Though Trump billed his vice presidential announcement as a news conference, about 250 seats separated the press pen and the podium, adorned with the standard “TRUMP” campaign logo — not the newly released Trump-Pence logo, a design that left many scratching their heads.
Trump did not take any questions.
During his remarks, however, Trump stressed that his decision to tap Pence was part of an effort to reach out to evangelicals and social conservatives. He went into a detailed riff about how he would repeal the “Johnson amendment” as president, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from endorsing political candidates.
“Religion’s voice has been taken away and we’re going to change that,” Trump said.
A senior Trump adviser told CNN that Trump and Pence will hit the swing states of North Carolina and Florida to hold joint rallies after the Republican convention next week. They will then split up, with Pence heading to Wisconsin to campaign alone.
A conventional choice
Trump’s selection of Pence — who is seen as a safe pair of hands in Washington — was one of the most conventional steps the billionaire has taken in an unorthodox campaign.
But his pick lost much of the political impact that campaigns normally try to build around a vice presidential selection due to a disorganized and leak-prone process. It revealed a candidate second-guessing himself over his decision and a campaign that doesn’t seem ready for prime-time.
In the end, and appropriately given the role of social media in his campaign, Trump took to Twitter on Friday to unveil the worst-kept secret in politics.
The new GOP ticket is not without internal contradictions, as there have been policy agreements between the two new partners. Pence has for instance long been a supporter of freed trade and the kind of big international agreements that Trump has campaigned against.
Pence quickly moved into line with some of Trump’s most controversial policies before the roll out.
He said in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on Friday that he was “very supportive” of the presumptive Republican nominee’s call to temporarily ban immigration from nations where there is heavy terrorist activity.
When Trump first announced a more stringent plan for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in December, Pence said it was “offensive and unconstitutional.”
The Indiana governor also backed Trump’s proposal for a wall on the southern U.S. border and said Mexico would “absolutely” pay for it.
Pence got an early look at the roller coaster ride he has signed up for over the next four months in the immediate hours after Trump called him to offer him the job and he flew to New York expecting things to be made official on Friday.
He arrived in New York late Thursday only to be alerted by an aide to a Fox News interview in which Trump was insisted he had not yet made a “final, final decision,” despite already asking Pence to be his No 2.
Trump, multiple sources told CNN, was troubled by his gut feeling that he should have gone with his friend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie instead, and made calls to his children and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but was told he could not.
The Trump campaign has denied the reports.
The Clinton campaign on Saturday sought to capitalize on the fitful vice presidential roll out, releasing a web video mocking the billionaire for being indecisive despite running a campaign based on his decision-making skills.