-- A candidate renowned for doubling down has hedged his biggest bet.
Donald Trump is using his vice-presidential selection to do one of the least Trump-like things he’s done during his freewheeling campaign. After a wild, reality-show-worthy veepstakes, Trump went traditional and predictable -- for once taking the advice of his inner circle and the cacophony of outside voices who wanted a stable selection.
In offering the job to Gov. Mike Pence, Trump is choosing to team up with someone who is everything he is not. Pence is a solid social and fiscal conservative, with both Washington and statehouse experience, not to mention a Midwestern vanilla manner that leaves him a virtual unknown outside Indiana.
He even has close ties to the nation's senior-most elected Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“I hope that he picks a good movement conservative,” Ryan said on today, “and clearly Mike is one of those.”
The selection is not about geography or demography. Instead, it shores up the GOP base while sending two important signals to a Republican base that remains uneasy about its soon-to-become nominee.
First, Trump is saying that he recognizes his weak spots. That includes the skepticism that many veteran Republicans -- including Ryan himself -- have about Trump’s commitment to conservative principles, given his relatively recent conversion on some key issues, and downright apostasies on others.
Perhaps more importantly, Trump is demonstrating that he can learn, and maybe even change. Temperamentally and ideologically, and by virtue of his resume, Pence is the kind of politician Trump got into the race to try to defeat.
He would never be described as a pirate, as the swashbuckling Newt Gingrich labeled himself and Trump on Wednesday. One can only imagine the nickname that Pence might have earned from Trump had he launched his own 2016 run and been standing alongside “Lil’ Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted.” (“Mild Mike”? “Half Pence?”)
As it is, Pence will have to answer for Trump’s raft of controversial statements. Pence himself has said the proposed Muslim ban was “offensive and unconstitutional.” They start their work together with deep policy disagreements, on foreign policy, trade, and taxes, just for starters.
In the short term, the choice of Pence is likely to quiet criticism Trump has weathered from the right. It figures to doom hopes of an insurrection in Cleveland, where hundreds of delegates had been poised to descend on the convention next week intent on blocking Trump’s nomination.
Unlike with Gingrich or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the risk in Pence is not of temper or potential freelancing. Instead, it’s in the other direction: The choice of an incumbent governor and former member of House leadership could undercut the outsider profile that has defined Trump’s core of support from the start.
The selection also pushes the Trump campaign further to the right. The Clinton campaign will be sure to remind voters of Pence’s years as fierce critic of abortion, his work in the House majority during the George W. Bush years, and his leading role as governor in pushing a so-called “religious freedom” law that was viewed as targeting gays and lesbians for unequal treatment.
But the chilling signal the choice should send to Democrats is simpler: It says Trump believes he can actually win.
It’s the sign of a confident candidate to go against type like this. It may even suggest that there’s a new version of Donald Trump who’s ready for the general election after all.