With Gov. Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate, the billionaire’s anti-establishment presidential campaign gains new ties to conservative organizations that may allay some of the angst that’s developed among Republican insiders.
Pence, a Republican who served in the House from 2001 to 2013, beat out former Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the vice presidential slot, Trump announced Friday. Trump postponed until Saturday a Friday scheduled news conference to introduce his running mate in light of the “horrible attack” in Nice, France, that left dozens dead, according to a Trump tweet.
An ambitious lawmaker who rose to the No. 3 position in the House GOP hierarchy, Pence left behind a roster of former aides and contacts who now work for advocacy organizations, public relations outfits and lobby shops. It’s a network that may buoy Trump’s campaign with the conservative grassroots movement and also ease tensions between the party’s pro-business and social conservative factions.
“All of us have been nervous and concerned that Donald Trump wouldn’t get his act together,” said Terry Holt, a former aide to ex-Speaker John A. Boehner who is founder and partner of the communications firm HDMK. “But if he’s picking Mike Pence, that would make the party stronger and signal that he’s serious about winning the White House.”
Pence is a “principled conservative and great communicator who will not need training wheels,” Holt said, adding that he’s still not certain whether he will vote for Trump. Pence, he said, represents a “serious pick, and it shows Donald Trump can get it right once in a while.”
Numerous former Pence aides have moved in and out of conservative organizations such as Heritage Action for America and the Koch Brothers-backed Freedom Partners, groups that are sometimes at odds with business interests over high-profile policy matters.
Russ Vought, vice president of grassroots outreach at Heritage Action, served as policy director of the House Republican Conference when Pence was the group’s chairman. Marc Short, another onetime Pence aide and insider, was at Freedom Partners before signing on with the campaign of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Matt Lloyd, who’s been an aide to Pence in Congress and while he was governor, left Koch Industries last year to return to Pence’s team.
Doug Sachtleben, a spokesman for the conservative Club for Growth, is another member of the Pence alumni network, as are Katie Hughes, a PR executive with CRC Public Relations, which counts conservative organizations as clients, and Matthew Lavoie, now a senior communications representative for Caterpillar Inc.
Bill Smith, who ran Pence’s congressional office and his governor’s office, now operates his own consulting firm in Indianapolis.
Still, some GOP lobbyists said picking Pence would do nothing to woo them over to the Trump effort. And given Pence’s conservative bonafides, it’s no surprise that liberal groups have already blasted the choice.
With the Indiana governor as his running mate, Trump is “redoubling down on his divisive and hate-filled approach to politics,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org, noting in particular Pence’s record of opposing gay-rights measures.
While in Congress, Pence’s top givers included retirees, real estate, and banking and securities executives, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Though Pence’s Washington network runs deep, lobbyists say he was not a creature of the Beltway.
“The fact that he continued to wear short-sleeved shirts with ties the whole time he was in Congress shows he’s a Midwestern guy,” said Kathryn Lehman, a former House GOP leadership aide and now a partner at Holland & Knight.
Some on K Street said the addition of Pence to the Republican ticket seals the deal and earns their unwavering support.
“He can give a fiery speech, but mostly when you’re dealing with Mike, it’s more of a contemplative interaction,” said GOP lobbyist Jeff Taylor, a former top aide to ex-Rep. David McIntosh who represented the same Indiana district immediately before Pence. McIntosh now runs the conservative Club for Growth.
Taylor said he had already planned to vote for Trump, though perhaps reluctantly.
“When you put Donald Trump on a team with Mike Pence, I’m going to go out and redouble my efforts because all of a sudden, the ticket has become more conservative,” Taylor said. “I’m energized now about this ticket. This ticket must win.”