In a midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom, Donald Trump introduced Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, as his pick for the Republican vice presidential nomination.
It was the most unusual vice presidential rollout in memory. And on a basic level, it was amateur hour. At the podium, Donald Trump was cast half in shadow, with seemingly no bright television lights to even out the dark camera shot. Rather than the kind of massive outdoor rally many campaigns arrange for this kind of announcement, there seemed to be a few rows of supporters and campaign staff, buttressed by a few more rows of reporters. It was the kind of room you might have a box lunch in, during a regional sales meeting.
Trump gave his standard campaign stump speech–as standard as the extemporaneous Trump ever gets–seeming to be able to speak about Pence only by interrupting himself, or through asides. The new Trump/Pence campaign logo–yes, that one–was not even present on the rostrum today. Apparently no one at the campaign had time to make it over to a FedEx Kinkos to have a new sign made. Eventually, Trump did turn to his Pence talking points, but those did not improve the coherence of his speech. Mike Pence got to speak, too, which is about all that needs to be said about the content of his remarks.
Leaning on their attacks on Hillary Clinton, the pair offered little in the way of programs or plans beyond the broad strokes Trump has offered repeatedly in the past. Anything in the way of policy specifics would of course start the process of reality-testing those policies, and force Trump supporters to confront what their man would actually do with the presidency, if elected.
That’s something no candidate wants to do until absolutely necessary, but that problem is more acute for Trump, whose main promises–a Muslim immigration ban, a wall on the Mexican border–remain unworkable, xenophobic fantasies, appealing mainly to the disaffected, poor, older whites who propelled him to the nomination.
But, as Trump said during his speech, back to Mike Pence. The VP pick is the realization of Trump’s recent pivot to running as the law-and-order candidate. Just as Trump borrowed Ronald Reagan’s slogan in promising to make America great again, he is now reaching back to another Republican president, Richard Nixon. There was never a question that Nixon’s rise to power was all about Nixon, so much so that his vice presidential pick in 1968 was greeted by party insiders with the phrase, “Spiro who?” Pence doesn’t have quite the low profile of Agnew, who had a meteoric six-year rise from county executive to Maryland governor to the Vice-Presidency, but he is a square-jawed, white haired, g-man type of foil to the outsize appetites and personality inhabiting the top of the Republican ticket.
The media has reported that Trump had to be counseled that he wasn’t “picking a new best friend,” in choosing Pence as his running mate, advice that was meant to quash his waffling. During his remarks, Trump made a frank admission that he picked Pence, or accepted his team’s recommendation of the governor, with “party unity” in mind. Trump, though, perhaps still grappling with the concession to unity, appeared to walk off the stage as Pence spoke, rather than stand behind him.
From the way the speeches turned out, including the extremely brief photo op at the end, it’s very clear that Trump and Pence are never, ever going to be best buddies. They don’t have to be, to win the White House. What they do need is a rock-solid partnership and execution strategy, to make the broader electorate see them as effective leaders with a coherent plan for America. There was no evidence of that being the case on the poorly lit stage today.