“Back to Mike Pence,” Donald Trump said roughly 16 minutes into his New York event, ostensibly arranged to introduce the Indiana governor as his safe, solid, conservative running mate, whom he may or may not want on the ticket.
Donald Trump gets distracted.
He had spent those 16 minutes speaking about his favorite subject, Donald Trump, and the many resplendent real estate and political conquests thereby. Only briefly in that time did he acknowledge the purpose of the event, the crisp haircut awaiting his introduction stage right: “Mike Pence was my first choice,” he insisted.
It still took Trump awhile to get “back to Mike Pence” after announcing his rhetorical intentions. He resumed ranting about whatever the hell he felt like: Crooked Hillary, how he predicted Brexit (?), the substantial sum of votes he received in the Republican presidential primary, his renovation of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, his successes on the convention rules committee, his builder friend he was talking to the other day who is building plants in Mexico like you wouldn’t believe, and the tax-exempt status of religious groups.
Even when Trump did begin to focus on Mike Pence, his responsible stewardship of Indiana’s finances, beautiful family, and other governing matters—“school choice is where it’s at, folks”—Trump couldn’t help but train the spotlight on himself. The last item he ticked off before finally introducing his first-choice deputy was Pence’s wishy-washy endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz ahead of the April primary. “It was the single greatest nonendorsement I ever had in my life, I will tell ya.”
What happened next was surreal. National politics traveled back in time, through a secret midtown Manhattan wormhole, to a conservative Republican politics that existed before Donald Trump, when people like Mike Pence were the figures presumed to restore Republican rule in national politics.
Pence delivered a normal, steady, prepared, and 100 percent ad-lib–free political speech, the sort of oration a politician might deliver. It was, you know, fine: grew up by a farm, loves his wife and family, God, kid in the military, low taxes, God, Scalia, boo Hillary. Completely unmemorable from a writing standpoint, and just the set piece Paul Manafort and other party professionals were looking for: the vision of a stabilizing presence, a ’50s dad belaying the ticket to suggest that somehow, despite what your very eyes are telling you, it wouldn’t be historically reckless to install Donald Trump as president of the United States.
The yammerers on cable television instantly pronounced Pence “presidential” for the facility with which he read a speech. Despite Trump’s best introductory efforts, then, this was a smash hit for Manafort: Commentators are already beginning to forget which candidate is atop the ticket.