Indiana Gov. Pence tries out for Trump vice president as speculation swirls

WESTFIELD, Ind. — Donald Trump held the latest audition in his quest to find a vice presidential running mate, appearing at a campaign rally here Tuesday night with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is said to be on the presumptive Republican nominee’s shortlist for the job.

Pence, a former Republican congressman who has a reputation for being a mild-mannered but staunch conservative, introduced Trump with a fiery speech, praising him as a “fighter, a builder and a patriot” who will bring “no-nonsense” leadership to the White House.

“Donald Trump understands the frustrations and the hopes of the American people, like no other American leader in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan,” Pence declared, adding that Trump “hears the voice of the American people.”

“He has been successful on Wall Street, but he’s never turned his back on Main Street,” Pence continued, reading from notes. “He has never forgotten or forsaken the people who work with their hands, who grow the food, build our roads and bridges, tend to our sick, teach our kids and protect our lives and our property.”

Pence called on the few thousand people at the rally “to come together and elect this good man.”

It was the first time Trump had shared a stage with Pence, who briefly considered his own run for the GOP nomination before ultimately endorsing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz late in the primary.

Trump, who met privately with the Indiana governor before the event, hinted at the intrigue surrounding Pence’s future. “I don’t know if he’s going to be your governor or vice president,” Trump declared at one point. “Who the hell knows?”

Trump’s decision on his VP is said to be imminent, and the joint appearance with Pence comes just days before the kickoff of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland — where, barring any party drama, Trump is set to formally accept his party’s presidential nomination.

Pence was the fourth prospective VP who has campaigned with Trump in recent days. Last week, the New York real estate mogul appeared with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker — who subsequently took himself out of the running for the job. 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.

Trump is also said to be eyeing retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has served as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign. But Flynn’s prospects were muddied when the retired general, a Democrat, told ABC News that he was a supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights — two issues that could alienate a Republican Party base already wary of Trump. Flynn later walked his abortion remarks back — telling Fox News that he is a “pro-life Democrat.”

For his part, Trump has sent mixed signals about how close he is to settling on a running mate and how many people might be on that list. After teasing the idea that he would announce his pick during the convention for maximum drama, Trump is now expected to announce his decision by this Friday.

At the same time, Trump had previously said he was considering four people. In recent days, he’s expanded the list to include five. And in an interview with the New York Times Tuesday, he said that in addition to those original five, he was considering “two, two that are unknown to anybody.”

Trump has tapped longtime GOP hand Arthur Culvahouse to handle the vetting of his potential running mates. But it’s unclear how many people Culvahouse — who helped John McCain and Mitt Romney screen their nominees — is actually vetting. The Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Adding to the mystery are mixed signals from those on Trump’s shortlist. On Tuesday, Fox News announced it was temporarily parting ways with Gingrich, a longtime contributor to the network, as Trump considers whether to add him to the GOP ticket. Meanwhile, Christie’s office announced that the governor would be traveling out of state Wednesday — though aides declined to say where.

Meanwhile, former Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who had previously been floated by Trump and his team as a possible VP, told CNN he would “decline consideration for any role” in a Trump administration.

Pence, who is currently facing a tough battle for re-election, seems to be enthusiastically positioning himself for the job. After he left the stage, Pence’s Twitter account suddenly erupted with activity praising Trump as the party’s presumptive nominee.

“Let us resolve here and now that from this day forward, we will stand together. We will unite,” Pence tweeted. “We will not rest until we elect (Trump) as the next president of the United States of America.”