(Courtesy: Fox News)
Donald Trump on Saturday officially announced Mike Pence as his running-mate, saying the Indiana governor and former Republican congressional leader will help him “make American safe again, great again.”
“I am here to introduce the man who will be my partner in the campaign and in the White House to fix the rigged system,” Trump said from a Hilton hotel in New York City. “I found a leader who will help us deliver a safe society and a prosperous society.”
Trump, before bringing Pence on stage, delivered a blistering stump speech that attacked presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, arguing that her failures as secretary of state has led to the global terror attacks that are destroying the world.
“The Middle East is out of control,” said Trump, who planned to hold an event Friday announcing Pence as his running-mate but was forced to cancel because of the terror attack in Nice, France, on Thursday that killed at least 84 people.
“Hillary Clinton led (President) Obama right down a horrible path. … Iraq, Syria horrible," Trump said. "Now we’re seeing unrest in Turkey.”
Trump instead tweeted on Friday that he’d selected the 57-year-old Pence, taking away much of the drama that typically comes with announcing a vice presidential nominee.
“I thank Donald Trump for having the confidence in us. I accept your invitation to run and serve as vice president of the United States,” Pence said Saturday.
“Let’s come together as a party as a movement to make America great again," Pence also said, while suggesting that he knew as early as Wednesday that he would be the nominee. "Thank you for the honor, for the support.”
The selection of Pence, who went from dark horse to leading contender in a matter of days, should help Trump galvanize support from the party’s conservative base ahead of the Republican nominating convention that starts Monday in Cleveland.
Pence, a former member of House Republican leadership, was among a handful of finalists in a public vetting process that included meetings and campaign events with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
He was selected from a relatively small short-list of candidates -- those liked by Trump and willing to stake their political future on the unconventional and unpredictable White House contender.
Pence, who emerged relatively late in the vice presidential stakes, almost immediately gives the Trump campaign much-needed social conservative credentials without the kind of political baggage that Democrats had hoped to exploit in other finalists like Christie or Gingrich.
Still, The campaign for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has already gone on the attack, calling Pence “the most extreme pick in a generation.”
Pence, who spent 12 years in Congress and until Friday was in a tough gubernatorial re-election bid, could also help Trump with critical fundraising, considering his general election campaign has roughly $1.3 million in the bank as of the last filing.
Clinton’s campaign has $42 million and a network of donors assembled through the candidate’s lengthy career in politics.
Pence’s deputy chief of staff was a former spokesman for Koch Industries, and his chief of staff in Congress later ran the Koch brothers’ political umbrella organization.
Still, Pence is not without some negatives, particularly his handling last year of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The original law, which he signed, allowed residents and companies being sued by a private party to cite their religious beliefs as a defense. However, critics argued the law would allow discrimination against gays and others.
The national and widespread criticism was so damaging it forced Pence and the state legislature to revise the law to clearly prohibit businesses from denying services to customers based on their sexual preference or gender choice. And it appeared to end Pence’s 2016 presidential aspirations.
Some supporters thought Trump had top-tier candidates in Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and first-term Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who might have helped Trump better connect with women voters.
However, both dropped out earlier this month. Corker declined after appearing with Trump at only one campaign event.
Pence, a Catholic, earned a law degree from Indiana University in 1986 and ran two unsuccessful congressional campaigns before getting elected in 2000.
While in Congress, he opposed President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy, warning it would grow the federal government. In 2006, he unveiled a “no amnesty” immigration plan that called for increased border security and other measures but it did not pass. He also pushed to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and opposed closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Though Pence ascended the House ranks to eventually become part of the chamber’s GOP leadership, he lost a bid in 2006 to then-Ohio Rep. John Boehner to become the chamber’s GOP minority leader. Pence passed on the opportunity to run for Senate in 2010, then made trips to early-voting states Iowa and South Carolina, which fueled speculation that he would run for president, until he launched his bid for governor in May 2011.
“Pence is a through-and-through conservative,” said Caleb Burns, a Republican strategist and partner in the Washington law firm Wiley Rein, adding Pence could “energize the workhorses of the party.”
He said: “Given the options, Pence was the really the only one who delivered any amount of value to the campaign. … There was no real contingency that either Gingrich or Christie would have given you -- neither geographically nor in some pocket of the party.”
Had he not been picked, Pence would have been facing Democrat John Gregg for a rematch of their 2012 gubernatorial face-off which Pence won by a narrow margin; polls this year suggested a rematch would be similarly close.
Trump didn’t meet with Pence and his wife until July 2, at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
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