NEW YORK — By the time Donald Trump ushered Mike Pence on stage Saturday, 29 minutes had gone by — mostly Trump talking about Trump, not his new running mate.
Speaking from behind a podium that bore only the Trump logo, the GOP presumptive nominee listed several “primary reasons” for why he chose the Indiana governor — whom he called his “first choice.”
Among them, an affinity for Indiana, a state that Trump reminded was supposed to be a “firewall” for his last two GOP primary rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich — both of whom dropped their bids after Trump trounced them in the state.
Trump also acknowledged his push for Pence was a nod to “party unity,” a surprising reason given the candidate’s past candor that he doesn’t feel he needs GOP unity to win. And finally, there was the aesthetics.
"He looks very good,” Trump said. “Other than he’s got an incredible family.”
Trump went on to bash Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for foreign policy and her email server; reminded everyone of his success in the GOP primary; repeating a well-worn boast that his project in Washington to covert the historic Old Post Office into a hotel is under budget and ahead of schedule; and railed against the “Johnson amendment” which prohibited tax-exempt (religious) organization from endorsing political candidates.
“You’re shunned if … you want to talk religion,” Trump lamented, promising, as he has before, to change this rule.
Then: “back to Mike Pence."
When Trump finally focused on his running mate, he lauded him as a “highly talented executive” who led the state of Indiana and spurred jobs growth — in spite of the “obstacles” placed in his path by the Obama administration.
When Pence finally appeared, Trump patted him on the back and strode off-stage. While a bit awkward, the gesture did allow Pence the chance to introduce himself on his own terms. He described himself as a “basic guy” with midwest roots, who called himself a “Christian, conservative, and a Republican — in that order."
The Indiana governor repeatedly called the New York real estate mogul a "good man," said he was "grateful" for him and praised him as a "fighter" and "builder" who "set aside a legendary career in business" to run.
Pence's speech also sought to bridge gaps in the two men’s policies. He softened the language a bit around Trump’s infamous wall and Muslim ban, said Trump “wants to build a wall and temporarily suspend immigration by countries compromised by terrorism.” Not long ago, Pence openly opposed the proposed Muslim ban.
“Hillary Clinton plans to ignore the Supreme Court, reimpose executive amnesty, and would increase, increase, our refugee program by more than five hundred percent," Pence said.
Closing out the event, Trump rejoined his new running mate and the two men were joined by their families and adult children. Notably, Trump's wife, Melania, was absent.
Lingering over the event were reports that Trump had wavered on his pick of Pence as late as Thursday evening. Pence tried to dispel that impression, noting he'd he received a call Wednesday night, though he did not specify who the call was from. One Trump adviser affirmed after the speech that it was, in fact, Trump who called Pence to ask that if he were to tap Pence, he’d get a positive answer.
A spokeswoman for Clinton's fundraising arm said after the event that they were "prepared to respond with the many ways" that Pence would be just as "divisive" as Trump.
"But after publicly waffling over his own choice, Trump spent more time today making false attacks on Hillary Clinton — several of which could also be leveled against Pence — and talking about his own businesses than his own running mate," Hillary for America spokeswoman Christina Reynolds said in a statement. "It turns out, you can force Trump to make a choice and give him a speech, he’s always going to be Trump.”