NEW YORK —After nearly 24 hours of drama and intrigue, Donald Trump announced on Twitter Friday morning that he had picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. The candidate said he would appear with Pence at a news conference Saturday.
I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate. News conference tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2016
The decision came after a wild day of rumors Thursday, in which multiple news organizations reported that Trump had picked Pence only to have campaign aides quickly deny. Trump had been scheduled to appear with his vice presidential candidate Friday morning, but delayed the event citing the deadly truck attack in Nice, France.
“In light of the horrible attack in Nice, France, I have postponed tomorrow’s news conference concerning my vice presidential announcement,” Trump said in a Twitter message.
Pence landed in New York Thursday evening and had been expected to meet with Trump aides before joining the candidate at Friday’s news conference. But about a half hour after the governor’s arrival, Trump, in Los Angeles as part of a two-day fundraising swing, suddenly canceled the event.
A short while later, around the same time reporters observed Pence being escorted into a hotel near Trump Tower, Trump called Fox News, where he told host Greta Van Susteren that he was still undecided on who should join him on the GOP ticket. “I have not made my final, final decision,” Trump said.
On Friday morning, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, suggested Trump had made his final decision but also said the nominee wouldn’t be final until the candidate himself made the announcement. “Until he announces it, it’s not final,” Manafort told CNN.
It was yet another unexpected development in what was an unusually visible process for a choice that most candidates typically shroud in intense secrecy. But Trump, who has never been a traditional candidate, bucked the norms, conducting a whirlwind public audition process that spanned roughly 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, while 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 on stage Tuesday night at a rally outside Indianapolis. The next morning, Trump met privately with Pence again in Indianapolis — this time joined by his adult children — in a flurry of meetings with prospective running mates, including Gingrich and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, both of whom flew to Indiana to meet with the GOP presidential candidate.
On Wednesday, a Republican source close to the Trump campaign said most of Trump’s senior advisers, including his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, were urging him to pick Pence, arguing that the former Republican congressman and staunch conservative could help Trump win over mainstream Republicans still wary of his candidacy. Manafort had privately expressed concern about whether Christie and Gingrich, two powerful personalities with their own political brands, had the ability to be disciplined team players behind Trump heading into the fall.
But Trump has privately wavered on whether to go with Pence, someone he does not know well, or with longtime friends like Gingrich or Christie, who have been loyal defenders of his campaign. Though he has had a team of people vetting his potential running mates, including longtime GOP hand Arthur Culvahouse, Trump has repeatedly said he will go with his “gut” on the pick.
On Thursday, hours after the Pence rumors began to circulate, reporters began to wonder if the early reports were wrong amid mixed signals from close Trump allies and the campaign. At one point, sources told NBC News that Trump had not made a decision and that there was a split among members of the Trump family over whom the candidate should pick. Donald Trump Jr. told NBC that three choices remained and his father would make the decision sometime Thursday afternoon. In a subsequent message on Twitter, Trump’s son denied reports of drama and joked that his sister, Ivanka Trump, was the pick.
At the same time, Gingrich said in a Facebook video that he had not yet heard from the presumptive Republican nominee about his VP choice. According to NBC News, Christie finally spoke to Trump around 4pm ET on Thursday in what unnamed sources described as a “tense conversation” that left the New Jersey governor irritated about the “lack of clarity” from the candidate and his campaign.
The botched rollout seems to have stemmed in part because Trump was in California fundraising, while his senior aides were in Cleveland and then, later, New York. But a source close to the campaign told Yahoo News that Trump struggled with his decision until the final hours because of his close friendships with Gingrich and Christie.
With Pence finally confirmed as Trump’s VP, critics are sure to zero in on the Indiana governor’s policy breaks with the top of the ticket. Pence, who briefly entertained his own run for the presidency before endorsing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz late in the GOP primary, publicly criticized Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States as “offensive and unconstitutional.” He is also a vocal supporter of free trade and strongly backed the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — two trade deals that Trump has repeatedly railed against as “total disasters” for the country.
At the same time, Pence has a mixed record on the national stage. While polls suggest he is largely unknown to most Americans, he made headlines in 2015 when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill that was widely criticized as allowing legal discrimination against gays and lesbians. After a national outcry, including threats from major corporations to stop doing business with Indiana, Pence signed an amended version of the bill. But the controversy soured his relationships with the business community and even many Republicans in the state, who felt he had gone too far. The controversial bill is widely viewed as what killed Pence’s initial 2016 presidential aspirations.
Still, the Pence pick could potentially be a boost for Trump’s campaign in Indiana, a crucial swing state, and could also help solidify his standing with evangelicals — a key bastion of voting support for Republicans that Trump desperately needs to turn out this fall.
In the final hours, Trump was racing against time in two regards. Trump aides wanted to announce the pick before the kickoff of next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland. But Pence was also up against a crucial deadline. The Indiana governor, who was seeking a second term, could not run for both reelection and as Trump’s VP. He faced a noon deadline on Friday to remove himself from the gubernatorial ballot if he were to join the GOP ticket.
Shortly before 11am on Friday, reporters staked out at the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, which handles balloting issues, took note of a woman in yellow who quietly walked in and delivered an envelope asking to have a candidate dropped from the ballot. Officials didn’t say if it was a request on Pence’s behalf, but a few minutes later, Trump announced to the world on Twitter that he had settled on Pence.