Trump aims to win over GOP with Pence pick

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By tapping Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump is aiming to assuage concerns about his presidential bid among skeptical grassroots conservatives and establishment Republicans alike.

Pence is an evangelical Christian and staunch social and fiscal conservative who spent a dozen years on Capitol Hill before winning the governor’s mansion in 2012.

{mosads}The 57-year-old father of three brings executive experience, crucial Washington relationships, foreign policy chops and conservative bona fides to a GOP ticket that had been severely lacking in those areas.

“He was a very successful member of Congress, a great governor and would really excite the conservative part of the party,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who served a couple terms with Pence and initially backed Marco Rubio in the GOP primary. Chaffetz is skipping next week’s party convention to attend an overseas trip.  

“To have one of our own on the ticket would be heaven-sent,” he said. “Mike Pence understands the House. He’s a rock-solid conservative, and that would go a long way with a lot of people.”

Trump will formally announce his VP pick at 11 a.m. Friday, just hours before a deadline in which the Indiana governor needs to notify the state as to whether he is seeking election to a second term.

A former conservative talk radio host, Pence won election to the House in 2000, less than a year before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that struck Washington and New York. He traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and other global hotspots as a longtime member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  

The ambitious politician later won the chairmanship of the influential conservative Republican Study Committee, the party’s largest caucus on Capitol Hill.

In late 2006, Pence tried to use that platform to challenge Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) for minority leader, the top post in the House GOP conference that year. Boehner trounced Pence 168 to 27, but Pence would go on to win election to the No. 3 leadership post, GOP conference chairman, a few years later.

Trump surrogates on Capitol Hill said the Pence pick is indicative of the type of qualified and experienced individuals he would fill his Cabinet and administration with. As vice president, Pence would be able to help Trump navigate Capitol Hill but also Washington’s relationship with states.

“It just shows that Donald Trump has made two very good presidential decisions — one when he came out with his list for the Supreme Court, and now his pick for vice president,” said Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), an early Trump backer who attended a pro-Trump meeting on the Hill Thursday morning. “And I think this signifies what kind of administration and team he will put together.

“This should lay to rest any fears of what Donald Trump will do when he gets to Washington. He’s going to surround himself with the best people he can find.”

Trump, who won the crowded GOP primary race in his first bid for public office, appears to have steadied his campaign after a series of high-profile blunders that unnerved GOP elites in Washington and around the country.

The Manhattan billionaire businessman was roundly condemned by party leaders after proposing to ban Muslims from entering the United States, for encouraging violence at some of his campaign rallies, for attacking the Mexican-American heritage of a federal judge, and for tweeting what appeared to be anti-Semitic images.

Other distractions harmed his campaign as well. Trump fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, months after his top aide was arrested for battery after grabbing the arm of a female reporter at a Trump event.

And during a meeting with GOP senators last week, one focused on uniting the party before Cleveland, Trump tangled with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ariz.), called Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) a loser, and bashed Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). All three senators have been highly critical of Trump.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has publicly rebuked Trump as well whenever he’s made inflammatory statements. He gave a speech aimed at Trump calling for more civility in the election process, and refused to immediately endorse the real estate tycoon and reality TV star after he had locked up the nomination.

Ryan, the chairman of the GOP convention, eventually came around to Trump, saying he’d be a better partner than Democrat Hillary Clinton. But the Speaker has never been an enthusiastic supporter of Trump.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol Thursday, however, Ryan was effusive in his praise of Pence.

“It’s no secret: I’m a big fan of Mike Pence’s. We’re very good friends. I have very high regard for him,” Ryan said shortly before the Pence news broke. “I hope that he picks a good movement conservative. Clearly Mike is one of those.”

During his tenure in the House, Pence burnished his credentials as a fiscal and social conservative. He railed against the Wall Street and auto bailouts, and backed legislation defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Leading the Hoosier State last year, Pence sparked a national firestorm by signing “religious freedom” legislation that civil-rights activists and some businesses warned could allow discrimination against the LGBT community. Pence was forced to revise the law after major corporations threatened to pull their business out of the state.

Pence is a “great pick,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a co-founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill. “He would guarantee that conservatives have a major presence in the Trump administration.”

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