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Friday, December 8, 2023

An underwhelming rollout for the GOP

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence reacts with his wife, Karen, as they arrive for a Welcome Home Rally, Saturday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence reacts with his wife, Karen, as they arrive for a Welcome Home Rally, Saturday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

While the Donald Trump-Mike Pence presidential ticket made its debut at a weekend event that was awkward at times, it highlights a pairing designed in part to bring together fractious elements of the Republican Party on the eve of its national convention.

Trump spent more time talking about himself, “crooked” Hillary Clinton and standard policy positions than he did praising running mate Mike Pence in a nearly 30-minute introduction. He lauded Pence’s personal character and conservative credentials and pointed to his record as governor of Indiana.

The trappings of a presumptive nominee’s most significant announcement were missing in the Manhattan hotel ballroom where a few hundred supporters gathered Saturday morning. Nowhere in sight were “Trump/Pence” signs, for example, and Trump’s decision had been tweeted the previous day, stealing any sense of surprise from the event. Choosing a venue in a state Trump has little chance of winning also broke with traditional politicking strategy.

“All right, back to Mike Pence,” Trump said at one point after a long tangent talking about the Republican Party’s efforts to overturn rules that limit church leaders’ political involvement. He called Pence a “solid, solid person” and mused at one point, “What a difference between crooked Hillary Clinton and Mike Pence.”

Trump and his new running mate appeared on stage together only briefly before Trump disappeared and Pence gave a speech that closely hewed to the populist themes that Trump has voiced, describing himself as “really just a small-town boy.” He praised Trump effusively as “a good man,” a fighter, a legendary businessman and a patriotic American.

“The American people are tired,” Pence said in remarks that included many of the same talking points that until recently he was using in his bid for re-election. “We’re tired of being told that this is as good as it gets. We’re tired of having politicians in both parties in Washington, D.C., telling us we’ll get to those problems tomorrow.”

Trump returned for a round of photos with the Trump and Pence families.

The joint appearance was meant to catapult the party toward a successful and unified Republican National Convention, which kicks off in Cleveland on Monday. Trump conceded in his remarks that one of the reasons he’d selected Pence was to promote unity within the Republican Party, left deeply fractured by the ascent of the billionaire businessman and reality TV star.

The lack of hoopla contrasted with Mitt Romney’s introduction four years ago of running mate Paul Ryan on the deck of a Navy battleship, the USS Wisconsin, off the shore of swing-state Virginia. With cheering, flag-waving crowds and a soaring patriotic soundtrack, the pair faced the nation for the first time flanked by a massive red, white and blue banner displaying their new campaign logo.

The underwhelming rollout of the GOP ticket continued when Pence flew back home to Indiana without Trump. A few hundred people greeted him at a suburban Indianapolis airport hangar bereft of any “Trump-Pence” signs. He spoke for only a few minutes, telling the crowd that he and his family were headed home for “pizza night.”

The Indiana governor is well-regarded by evangelical Christians for long-held opposition to abortion and gay marriage, but his hard-line ideology on social issues is sometimes at odds with Trump’s own views. The two also differ starkly on trade.

Clinton’s team was already painting Pence’s conservative social viewpoints as out of step with the mainstream.


Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Steve Peoples in Cleveland and Brian Slodysko in Zionsville, Indiana, contributed to this report.


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