Countdown to Cleveland — and Trump’s vice presidential pick

Mike Pence or not Mike Pence? Has the Indiana governor won the Trump veepstakes? He’s considered a safe pick, as opposed to Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie, and is liked by conservatives. Judy Woodruff talks to Gwen Ifill as Cleveland prepares to kick off the Republican National Convention. Then Lisa Desjardins, presidential historian Michael Beschloss and Domenico Montanaro of NPR.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We start with a swirl of speculation around Donald Trump's V.P. pick, as the Republican Party readies for an unconventional convention.

    Gwen is in Cleveland tonight at the PBS station there, WVIZ ideastream.

    Hello, Gwen.

    So, how does all this rollout of a vice presidential pick, how does it compare with others you've covered?

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I would say the last 24 hours is crazier than any I've ever covered, but not entirely the entire process.

    We're still waiting for the final word on who the nominee is going to be. But think back with me, Judy, because you have covered these as well. In 1988, that was the one big surprise. Remember when Dan Quayle showed up literally at the convention on a riverboat and George Bush had anointed him for the first time?

    No one had ever really heard of him. No one had thought of him, once again from Indiana, a senator from Indiana. And then I remember, in 1992, being in Little Rock and hearing that Al Gore was going to be Bill Clinton's nominee. And part of the surprise of that, of course, was there were two Southerners. That wasn't supposed to happen. That wasn't the conventional wisdom.

    But I think the last true surprise, and it didn't happen on the day of the announcement, but it happened maybe a day or two before, was when Dick Cheney, who was in charge of the search process, actually announced that he was going to be — he didn't announce it, but it became clear he was going to be the vice presidential nominee that year.

    So, when you think about it — for H.W. Bush — when you think about it now — I mean, for George W. Bush — when you think about it now, you realize this is crazy and this is unusual and everything about this campaign has been unusual, but the vice presidential pick process always is.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And the bottom line is reporters have to be very careful at a moment like this.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Very, very careful.

    We woke up this morning and we heard that Mike Pence was leading the possibilities. And then that grew for a while, and then the Trump people sprayed some water on it. And there are a million different theories I have seen today. I personally, especially given the way this campaign has been, want to watch Donald Trump walk out himself and say the words.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I think we all do. All right, Gwen, who will be doing "Washington Week" from there tomorrow night, thanks.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Yes, we will have a special hour-long show. Looking forward to it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    From possible running mates to party rules, there is a lot to unpack.

    I'm joined now by Lisa Desjardins in Cleveland, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro, and "NewsHour" regular presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

    And we welcome all three of you back to the program.

    Lisa, I'm going to come to you in just a moment to talk about the rules committee, but first I want to turn to Domenico on the latest on the vice presidential pick by Donald Trump.

    It's been up and down all day, as Gwen said. What are you learning?

  • DOMENICO MONTANARO, NPR:

    Yes.

    As Gwen is talking about, we all want to see it come out of Donald Trump's mouth, because if there's anything we know, that this campaign wants to surprise us. Donald Trump had said that he wants to surprise us. We know that, by 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, we're supposed to hear in New York. All the signs are pointing to Mike Pence. The biggest signal is that he was left off the speakers list at the Republican National Convention.

    And what is important about that is because Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, who are the other two finalists, were on that speakers list, but, of course, all of us sit there and say, is that a head fake, is that real? Everybody is starting to look toward Pence. We will see if it's real.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Michael Beschloss, you have written about so many of these — of course, you have written about presidents and their choice of vice presidents. What does this tell us about the nominee, the candidate?

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian:

    I think the first thing it's going to tell us, as we have always been asking this question, after this convention, is this going to be sort of a change in Donald Trump's persona, in which he becomes more of a traditional candidate or is he going to remain himself?

    And I think if it's Mike Pence, probably the answer is that this is a sop to those who are saying you should choose a vice president in a more traditional way. From everybody we hear, if he chose who to spend an evening with of the three finalists, the three presumed finalists, Gingrich and Christie and Pence, probably wouldn't be Pence, but this is someone who probably has the least risk for this ticket, the least unpredictable.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And just quickly back to you, Domenico.

    What would — given what we have watched unfold from Donald Trump during this campaign, what would Mike Pence bring?

  • DOMENICO MONTANARO:

    Well, you're a couple of days away from the Republican Convention starting, and he needs to unify that party.

    You know, Lisa is out there covering the rules committee and that got kind of messy today. And he needs to be able to shore up the conservative base. I think Michael is exactly right. If you were to choose to have dinner with somebody, it probably wouldn't be Pence, an Indiana governor, somebody he doesn't know very well.

    He likes Chris Christie. He likes — seems to like Newt Gingrich very well. They seem to echo his personality. But the safe pick is a pick like Pence, in the sense that the most important thing in a vice presidential announcement is do no harm in a vice presidential pick, because we have seen people create all kinds of problems for the top of the ticket.

    But most people vote for the top of the ticket. They don't vote for the vice president. The last time that you could really tangibly point to a vice president actually bringing some geography on is probably LBJ being picked by JFK back in 1960.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Michael, just quickly to you. How much does the pick matter, traditionally?

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

    Well, it doesn't matter usually. Domenico is absolutely right.

    If you had to just count electoral votes, you have to go all the way back to LBJ in 1960 and say, he brought Texas, a couple of Deep South states Kennedy wouldn't otherwise have won.

    But, 1992, Bill Clinton decided to choose Al Gore, against a lot of advice, Tennessee, another Southerner, another moderate, also young.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

    He felt that that would double a lot of messages that he wanted to send.

    So that, I think you can say, helped that ticket to get elected, but hard to quantify it in terms of numbers.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Lisa Desjardins, you are there in Cleveland. You have been watching the goings-on at the convention. The rules committee has been meeting. This, I guess, is another way of learning something about the nominee, isn't it?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Oh, Judy, it's fascinating.

    These are actual decisions being made that will affect the party for years to come. And today what I saw in person was the crash of the many tectonic plates of this party today.

    We saw the rules committee have to stop for four hours before they even got started, had to go behind closed doors, supposedly for a printer error, but it was really about problems between conservatives, Ted Cruz's camp, also the anti-Trump camp that's hoping to use the rules process to derail Donald Trump next week.

    Add to that to the mix the RNC. Their officials were another side, and the Trump campaign. So you have these four sides coming together, each trying to protect their own territory.

    And, Judy, I just came from there. Those negotiations completely collapsed. And I think the takeaway here today is that the grassroots movement of the Republican Party, the ones that do not trust Washington and do not trust the RNC, they seem to have had some losses today.

    One vote that just happened, a big one, there was a move to try and ban lobbyists from being part of the RNC. That failed. That was a major test vote. That shows the RNC's strength.

    Donald Trump, his campaign sort of staying at arm's length from that, but they're hoping that that bodes well for them as they try to go to a convention and they want the least rebellion possible.

    However, Judy, there is enough people here who want to derail Donald Trump that I think we're still going to hear their voices on the floor next week, but it's just not clear how much.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Domenico, listening to you — and I want to come back to Lisa — why does it matter to Donald Trump what comes out of the rules committee right now?

  • DOMENICO MONTANARO:

    Well, I don't think it matters so much what necessarily comes out of the rules committee, you know, in a procedural way, but what they really want to do and need to do here is to pacify some of the anti-Trump rebellion that could take place.

    The last thing that Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party, or anybody else on the Trump campaign wants right now is any show of disunity on the floor of the convention. That's what they're trying to avoid.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Michael, looking at this through the lens of history, relationships between the party and the nominee have varied from election to election. How much does it matter to Donald Trump that he has the RNC and the grassroots of the party, which in this case are two different things, with him?

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

    Totally matters.

    We were talking about this rules committee. That excuse that there was a printer error that stalled the meeting, it sounded like something out of the old Soviet Union, the kind of excuse that used to be given.

    But the point is that if there's even the remotest danger that these pledged delegates will become liberated, there is a history of that. In 1980, Ted Kennedy came to New York with Jimmy Carter, who was president, didn't have enough delegates. So, he tried to get a rule passed that all pledges were — could be broken, and in that case he might be able to beat Jimmy Carter, who was not running well in the polls.

    So they don't want anything, the Trump people, to happen that's spontaneous. But the final point is that Donald Trump will be totally affected by the image that Americans take away of this convention at the end of next week. If it's a positive image, it's going to help a lot.

    If it looks as if it's disorganized, people will blame him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Lisa, on another front, the Trump campaign — there has been a lot of, I guess, consternation, you might say, among Republicans about why it's taken so long for us to learn who's speaking at the convention.

    The Trump campaign did put out a partial list today. What did we learn from that?

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    That's right.

    I think we got a lot from it. I think there will still be more speakers ahead, but, Judy, this wasn't the list that Donald Trump sort of told us to expect. This wasn't celebrities and sports figures. By and large, these were actual — mostly, the biggest group were lawmakers, current lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    We knew that those names would be on there, but also some important senators, like Shelley Moore Capito of swing state West Virginia, Florida's Governor Rick Scott, oh, another swing state, I wonder why. And I also paid attention especially to there's a few businessmen.

    The manager of Trump's own winery is going to be speaking, as well as, for example, the owner of a casino, those kinds of voices. But I think we do see some themes in here as well. It looks like Donald Trump is going to open this convention talking about security. He said just a few days ago, "I'm the law and order candidate."

    I think they're going to play that up a lot. And then, also, with these businesses, probably talk about jobs. I think, Judy, all these things kind of come together, what we're talking about, the vice president, the rules. This idea that the conservatives and the Republican Party are very hungry for some red meat, whether it's in the direction of the party or in their candidate or in the vice presidential candidate.

    Mike Pence, if he's the nominee, fills that goal. But he also, some Democrats are telling me today, gives them something, because he is very staunch on abortion. He is against gay rights.

    So, while he appeals to many Republicans, he sort of creates this bigger divide perhaps as we get into November. And I think Donald Trump seems to be doing a lot of things here in all of these ways for conservatives at this convention.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So many questions answered today, but other questions certainly still out there.

    Lisa Desjardins, Domenico Montanaro, Michael Beschloss, thank you, all three. And we look forward to spending much more time with you next week.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Absolutely.

  • DOMENICO MONTANARO:

    Thank you. Look forward to it.

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