Republicans root for Pence as VP

Greg Nash

Republican lawmakers say Donald Trump would take a significant step toward unifying the party around his presidential candidacy if he picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.  

Trump has had a rocky relationship with some Senate Republicans, a tension highlighted last week during a private meeting in which he got into an argument with Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and called Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) a loser.  

{mosads}The friction with congressional Republicans has raised the stakes for Trump’s vice presidential pick, which he said will be announced Friday. The businessman has been conducting a final round of interviews with candidates such as Pence, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

On Capitol Hill, Pence is the favorite, even among lawmakers who are skeptical about Trump’s candidacy. 

Flake said he would like Trump to tap someone who would moderate his positions on issues like immigration and trade and who would improve “the tone and tenor of the debate.”

“I’m a big fan of Mike Pence, and I think he has probably has a better chance of moving the candidate, perhaps, where he should be,” Flake said. “He’s conservative, and he’s smart, and he’s been good on trade and immigration as well.” 

Flake worked closely with Pence a decade ago, when they teamed up to battle President George W. Bush’s $550 billion Medicare prescription drug benefit and oppose earmarks.  

Pence served in the House from 2001 to 2013 and is known as a strong social conservative, meaning his presence on the ticket could help Trump with values voters — although the candidate exceeded expectations in attracting self-identified evangelical Christians during the primary. 

“What he needs is someone who is credible who can help him govern if he is successful,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “There’s nobody with more interesting ideas in Washington than Newt Gingrich, but that’s a different issue than actually governing day-to-day. I don’t see that as his strong suit.”

“Pence looks to me like a pretty attractive package. He’s got the experience and he’s got broad appeal within the traditional Republican circles,” he added.

Aside from his political experience, Pence has a talent for communicating as a one-time conservative talk show host.

Throughout his life in public service, he has touted his Christian faith as an important guide. 

“For me it all begins with faith,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010. “It begins with what matters most, and I try and put what I believe to be moral truth first, my philosophy of government second and my politics third.” 

Indiana Sen. Dan Coats (R) said Pence “brings access to several groups of voters that perhaps Donald Trump doesn’t have the same connection to.” 

Coats spoke to Pence Tuesday evening after he held a fundraiser and rally with Trump in Indiana.

“He was pretty calm about the whole thing. He basically said it’s Donald Trump’s decision,” he told reporters. 

Trump met with Pence Wednesday morning at the governor’s mansion.

“My understanding is that it went very, very well. It was very cordial, very pleasant,” Coats said.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) praised Pence’s experience as a governor and his “reform agenda,” which focused on Indiana’s school system.

Lawmakers declined to criticize Pence on the record, but some questioned whether he had as much policy expertise as Gingrich or ability to work with Democrats as Gingrich or Christie.

While Gingrich had several high-profile battles with President Bill Clinton in the ’90s — which resulted in a government shutdown — they also teamed up to reform welfare and balance the budget.

Christie was able to push through reforms in Democrat-dominated New Jersey legislature during his first term. He forged bipartisan compromises to curb property tax increases and prolong the solvency of the public employee pension system.

“He’s a Republican governor in a blue state. He’s found a way to work with a Democratic legislator to get things done and have an impact on New Jersey,” Tillis said.

Gingrich still commands strong respect in Congress for his deep knowledge of policy and ability to come up with innovative ideas. 

“Gingrich is always bubbling with ideas [and] Pence brings a lot of reassurance to mainstream Republicans, so I think they both have strengths,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

Nevertheless, Pence has fewer glaring weaknesses, GOP lawmakers say. 

One Republican senator said Gingrich still has scars from his bruising battle with Democrats as Speaker in the 1990s. He is seen to suffer from the same problem some lawmakers think affects Trump: a short attention span. 

Like Trump, Gingrich has a propensity for jumping onto grand ideas that are not so pragmatic, such as when he promised in 2012 to build a colony on the moon by 2020.

Christie learned about the intricate workings of the federal government as the former U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, a job that gave him oversight over various disputes between state interests and federal regulatory agencies.

But Christie hasn’t spent much time in Washington and doesn’t really know the players who would be crucial to passing Trump’s agenda. The businessman said in February, when he first started mulling potential running mates, that he wanted a political insider “because I want to get lots of great legislation.” 

Some Republicans question Trump’s short-list and think he might be better off picking someone who can help him win a swing state like Ohio. 

“Since no Republican has won without winning Ohio, I guess my favorite would be [Ohio Sen.] Rob Portman, but he can’t do it because he’s running. It’s up to Trump. If I were him, I’d probably pick [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich for that reason,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho). 

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Trump and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, tied in Ohio.

Portman said Gingrich, Pence and Christie would be good choices.

He also mentioned freshman Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and David Petraeus, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command and former director of the CIA, as good choices.

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