CLEVELAND — Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is banking on this week becoming a turning point in the GOP quest for the White House.
After Donald Trump’s somewhat clumsy introduction of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, during which Trump spent most of the time talking about himself and “crooked” Hillary Clinton, Priebus said Sunday that he expects Trump to debut his presidential side during this week’s convention in Cleveland.
“I think Thursday night’s a critical night for him, delivering a great speech, the balloon drop, the people in this country saying, ‘I can see Donald Trump being in the White House. I think he’s presidential,'” Priebus told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
The Trump-Pence pairing was designed in part to bring together fractious elements of the Republican Party on the eve of its national convention.
Yet the usual trappings of a presumptive nominee’s most significant announcement were missing in the Manhattan hotel ballroom where a few hundred supporters gathered Saturday morning. Nowhere in sight were “Trump/Pence” signs, for example, and Trump’s decision had been tweeted the previous day, stealing any sense of surprise from the event. Choosing a venue in a state Trump has little chance of winning also broke with traditional politicking strategy.
Trump and his new running mate appeared on stage together only briefly before Trump disappeared and Pence gave a speech that closely hewed to the populist themes that Trump has voiced, describing himself as “really just a small-town boy.” He praised Trump effusively as “a good man,” a fighter, a legendary businessman and a patriotic American.
“The American people are tired,” Pence said in remarks that included many of the same talking points that until recently he was using in his bid for re-election. “We’re tired of being told that this is as good as it gets. We’re tired of having politicians in both parties in Washington, D.C., telling us we’ll get to those problems tomorrow.”
Trump returned for a round of photos with the Trump and Pence families.
The lack of hoopla contrasted with Mitt Romney’s introduction four years ago of running mate Paul Ryan on the deck of a Navy battleship, the USS Wisconsin, off the shore of swing-state Virginia. With cheering, flag-waving crowds and a soaring patriotic soundtrack, the pair faced the nation for the first time flanked by a massive red, white and blue banner displaying their new campaign logo.
The underwhelming rollout of the GOP ticket continued when Pence flew back home to Indiana without Trump. A few hundred people greeted him at a suburban Indianapolis airport hangar bereft of any “Trump-Pence” signs. He spoke for only a few minutes, telling the crowd that he and his family were headed home for “pizza night.”
Priebus told “Fox News Sunday” that he expects Trump to bring a message of unity to this week’s convention, also working to attract women, young people and minorities into the party. Some have questioned whether Pence’s strong conservative stance on social issues might alienate demographic groups that lean Democrat.
Priebus described Trump and Pence as being “somewhere in the middle of each other” and says Trump plans an engagement tour soon to attract Latino voters.
Priebus also said “there is no religious test on the table,” despite Trump’s statement in December calling for a temporary ban of foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. until elected leaders could figure out “what is going on.”
Priebus told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that Trump is calling for a temporary ban on immigration from countries that harbor and train terrorists until the U.S. has a better vetting system.
The proposed ban is an example of where Trump differs from his pick for vice president. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence immediately called Trump’s proposal in December unconstitutional.
Priebus says the selection of Pence shows Trump didn’t want to surround himself with “yes people.”
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Steve Peoples in Cleveland and Brian Slodysko in Zionsville, Indiana, contributed to this report.