NEW YORK — Multiple reports on Thursday indicated that Donald Trump is set to pick Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. But in an abrupt change of plans, the presumptive Republican nominee late Thursday postponed a Friday morning news conference to unveil his pick, citing a 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.
CNN, ABC News and NBC News all reported late Thursday that Trump had offered the job to Pence, and that the Indiana governor had accepted. 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.
A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
It was yet another unexpected development in a wild day of rumors and drama surrounding Trump’s VP pick. Citing unnamed sources close to the campaign, both Roll Call and CBS News reported shortly before noon that Trump was expected to offer Pence the job in a phone call Thursday afternoon. The New York Times also reported that campaign officials had “signaled” to Republicans in Washington that Pence was Trump’s pick. And the Indianapolis Star, Pence’s hometown paper, also reported the Indiana governor was Trump’s pick, citing unnamed sources.
But Trump campaign officials quickly moved to tamp down those reports. “A decision has not been made by Mr. Trump. He will be making a decision in the future,” Jason Miller, a spokesman for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said on Twitter. A spokesman for Pence did not respond to an email requesting comment, but the governor’s deputy campaign manager for his reelection campaign was spotted by reporters on a flight from Indianapolis to New York on Thursday morning.
By mid-afternoon, reporters began to wonder if the early reports were wrong. 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, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said to be on Trump’s shortlist, said in a Facebook video that he had not yet heard from the presumptive Republican nominee about his VP choice. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another finalist, similarly told MSNBC he had not heard from Trump.
The last-minute intrigue over Trump’s running mate came after a whirlwind two weeks in which Trump held what amounted to public auditions for the job. 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 Gingrich in Cincinnati, while 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.
If Trump picks Pence, critics would be 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.
But late Thursday, Trump’s decision making seemed to be shrouded more in drama than certainty. The Indiana governor, who is seeking a second term, cannot run for both reelection and as Trump’s VP. He faces a noon deadline on Friday to remove himself from the gubernatorial ballot if he were to join the GOP ticket–and Trump’s public announcement could likely come after that deadline.
“Additional details to follow,” Trump’s campaign said in a statement to reporters canceling Friday’s event. “There is no further information at this time.”