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Pence Gives His All to His Trump V.P. Audition

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Donald Trump is running his search for a vice president like an episode of "The Apprentice." If you're just tuning in, the least likely to get fired as of this moment is Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a conservative with a big following among evangelicals, and Washington experience that Trump lacks. 

ABC News reported that Trump, his son Eric, daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, along with campaign manager Paul Manafort, turned up at the governor's mansion on Wednesday morning to test out the chemistry. The drop-in followed Pence's big tryout on Tuesday at a rally outside Indianapolis. He gave a performance that didn’t suggest he would be Trump’s attack dog, the usual role of a No. 2, as much as it conveyed that the white-haired chief executive of a serious Rust Belt state would provide adult supervision. 

QuickTake How the U.S. Elects Its Presidents

Pence clearly was smitten. He tweeted his heart out with a barrage of mash notes that would make a teenager blush. He compared Trump to Ronald Reagan in his “understanding of the American people." In another he wrote, “We will not rest until we elect @realDonaldTrump as the next President of the United States of America!" 

With 1,300 Likes, the post did better than this later communique, "Excited about talking Agriculture today at the Delaware County Fairgrounds. #AgRoundtable," but Pence is ISO the approval of just one person and he got it when the Trump clan came over for breakfast.

With most people, the heart-on-the-sleeve approach would be a turn-off, but not with Trump. He once said, explaining his admiration for Vladimir Putin and his make-up plane ride with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, “I like people who like me.”

And it doesn’t seem to matter that Pence’s admiration is a recent phenomenon. Just 10 weeks ago, before the Indiana primary, Trump was nothing like Reagan, as Pence endorsed Senator Ted Cruz in a last-ditch effort to deny the Donald the Republican nomination.

Pence is second only to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in his open desire for the job. Unlike Gingrich (who Trump met with later Wednesday), Pence has a real job in government to measure him by. He has a mixed record. He delivered on the must-do for every Republican governor -- tax cuts. But he compares unfavorably to his very popular predecessor, Mitch Daniels, who put the state on the glide path to economic stability.

People like him, but without being effusive about it. While serving in the House of Representatives, he tried to become minority leader, but was shellacked by Speaker John Boehner and got only 27 votes. He can come across a bit as a know-it-all, a legacy perhaps of his days hosting talk radio. He’s also lost a few elections and is by no means a shoo-in for re-election in November.

His Democratic challenger John Gregg claims Pence has not delivered on his promises to improve education and jobs, and stood by as the air-conditioning giant Carrier (one of Trump’s favorite whipping companies) moved hundreds of jobs out of state.

Complicating the race is the firestorm Pence created by signing the Religious Freedom Act. It would have allowed anyone to refuse to do business with someone whose gender identity offended them. For instance, a bakery could refuse to provide a cake with a groom and groom atop it. When conventioneers and sports teams threatened to cancel events, including the NBA finals, Pence had second thoughts and signed a bill that softened the first. He ended up alienating just about every side.

Trump needs a running mate who can help him with evangelicals, but too much of a contrast wouldn't be good. He may not want someone going all Jerry Falwell on him. Trump doesn’t seem to care if Heather has two mommies or where Caitlyn Jenner does her business. On the other hand, he does care about Carrier moving jobs to Mexico and deeply about his wall. Pence supported a guest-worker program.

Well, no marriage is perfect. Of the remaining contestants -- (as far as we know, Pence, Christie and Gingrich, after Senators Bob Corker and Joni Ernst removed themselves from contention), Pence brings the most to the ticket. He doesn’t have Gingrich’s intellect, true, but he also doesn’t have eruptions of wackiness that could divert attention to colonizing the moon mid-debate. Christie comes with the taint of Bridgegate and super-low job approval in New Jersey, though he can’t be counted out. From his inside perch as head of transition, like Dick Cheney, he could maneuver himself into the job.

Pence would also bring in the money Trump says he doesn’t need, but, of course, does. From his days on Capitol Hill, Pence knows how to dial for dollars. More importantly, he has strong ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers. They’ve withdrawn from this presidential race, but could reconsider big time should their governor be named.

For a while, it looked as though no one wanted to be Trump’s veep. Now there’s one person dying to do it, and that may be enough to clinch the deal. That and getting Ivanka’s approval, which reportedly came Wednesday after the gathering at Pence’s house. Given that Trump’s campaign shows shades of "The Manchurian Candidate," in which the candidate’s daughter, not his mother, is pulling the strings, that’s very important.

When Trump was recently asked about his choice, he said "Who the hell knows?" He says he'll let us know by Friday. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net