NEW YORK — After days of rumors, leaks and counterleaks, and reports of midnight second thoughts, Donald Trump officially introduced Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate in a half-hour speech that was mostly about himself, with occasional nods to the crookedness of his presumptive opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“What a difference between crooked Hillary Clinton and Mike Pence,’’ Trump declared, appearing alone behind a lectern in a large ballroom at the New York Hilton hotel. Speaking from notes but with extensive extemporaneous digressions, he described Pence as “a man of honor, character, and honesty” who has been an “outstanding” leader. “I admire the fact he fights for the people, and he’s going to fight for you,” Trump said. “He’s a solid, solid person.”
But Pence — whose selection was announced via Twitter on Friday — didn’t get his moment in the spotlight until Trump was done reminding the audience of his own numerous primary wins, the historic number of votes he received, and his expertise in construction. “No one in the history of this country knows more about infrastructure than Donald Trump,” the candidate declared, apropos of a point that was apparent only to him.
Occasionally, Trump seemed to realize he was getting off-track. “Back to Mike Pence,” the GOP candidate said at 16 minutes into his remarks. But he still kept talking about other things: the treatment of veterans, ISIS, and even the defeat of the so-called #NeverTrump movement, which had been determined to stop him from officially claiming the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland.
“They got crushed,” Trump declared. “And they got crushed immediately, because people want what we’re saying to happen.”
At the side of the room, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist, watched the candidate, his arms crossed and a slight smile frozen on his face.
In the rare moments Trump did talk about Pence, he detailed the reasons why he had selected the Indiana governor. Describing Pence as his “first choice” — notwithstanding multiple reports that he had been undecided up until the last minute of his VP search — the New York real estate mogul and former reality television star acknowledged he had picked the former congressman to “unite the party.”
“One of the big reasons that I chose Mike … is party unity,” Trump said. “I have to be honest. So many people have said ‘party unity’ because I’m an outsider.”
The event was yet another unexpected development in what was an unusually public process for a choice that most candidates typically shroud in intense secrecy. Trump, who has never been a traditional candidate, conducted a whirlwind public audition process over two weeks. Last week, the New York real estate mogul appeared with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker — who subsequently took himself out of the running for the position. That appearance was followed by a joint rally with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Cincinnati. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie introduced Trump at a policy speech Monday in Virginia Beach, Va.
Pence was the last prospective candidate to appear with Trump, joining him onstage Tuesday night at a rally outside Indianapolis. The next morning, Trump met privately with Pence in Indianapolis, this time joined by Trump’s adult children. The governor faced a deadline of noon Friday to withdraw as a candidate for reelection, and Trump was keeping him in suspense, it seemed, until the last possible moment. Trump also met that day with Gingrich and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a longtime Trump adviser who was said to be a dark horse Veep candidate.
On Wednesday, a Republican source close to the Trump campaign said most of Trump’s senior advisers, including Manafort, were urging him to pick Pence, arguing that the staunch conservative could help win over mainstream Republicans wary of the unpredictable billionaire developer. Manafort had privately expressed concern about whether Christie and Gingrich, two powerful personalities with their own political brands, had the ability to be disciplined players on the Trump team heading into the fall.
When he finally took the stage, Pence proved his ability to be disciplined — delivering a speech from notes that ran a succinct 12 minutes. He praised Trump as a “good man,” “a fighter,” and a brilliant businessman who had put his country over his career in choosing to seek the presidency.
Perhaps in a nod to the intrigue over his selection, Pence said he had answered “the call” to be VP on Wednesday — though he did not say who it was from or what exactly was said. (On Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News he had not yet made his “final, final decision” on who should be his running mate.)
“I answered this call for two reasons. First, because I know from firsthand experience that strong Republican leadership can bring about real change … just like we’ve seen in the Hoosier State,” Pence said of his choice to accept the job as Trump’s running mate. “Secondly, because Hillary Clinton must never become president of the United States of America.”
Trump, who is not used to sharing the stage, seemed a bit awkward with his new running mate. While candidates of the past have usually remained onstage for their VP’s acceptance speech, Trump departed after a quick handshake and a pat on the back. And after Pence’s remarks, they briefly shared the stage again, this time with members of their respective families before working the rope line, separately.