Saturday 1 October 2016

Hired or fired? Donald Trump in Apprentice-style search for running mates

Brian Slodysko, Jill Colvin and Steve Peoples

Published 14/07/2016 | 06:17

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has begun an Apprentice-style search for a Republican running mate, arranging last-minute meetings with his finalists and family members as his staff prepares to announce the winner.

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The brash billionaire businessman and reality TV host said on Twitter that he would reveal his choice at 11am on Friday in Manhattan.

On Wednesday Mr Trump, his adult children and key staffers huddled with the vice-presidential prospects.

He began with breakfast at the home of one, Indiana governor Mike Pence, a day after the pair campaigned together in the state. They were joined by Mr Trump's three grown-up children, his son-and-law and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Hours later, Newt Gingrich, another finalist, was seen with Mr Trump's entourage at a central Indianapolis hotel. Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, who has been advising Mr Trump, was spotted arriving at the same hotel not long after Mr Gingrich left.

Mr Trump's family, including daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, also met New Jersey governor Chris Christie on Tuesday.

The meetings have been designed to let Mr Trump's family get to know the candidates better before the presumptive party nominee formalises his decision.

Mr Trump had originally planned to fly back from Indiana with Mr Pence following a rally on Tuesday night, but his plane was grounded by mechanical issues, so his children flew to join them in Indiana, a person familiar with his movements said.

"It was a late plan," Mr Pence said on Wednesday. "I was hauling dishes from the cupboard at midnight. (Mr Pence's wife) Karen laid out a nice spread."

Indiana is a state with particular significance for the presumptive Republican nominee. It is where he effectively locked up the party nomination with a commanding primary win that drove former rival Ted Cruz from the race.

Mr Pence, Mr Christie and Mr Gingrich are said to be the final contenders for vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket less than a week before the party meets in Cleveland, Ohio, for the formal nomination. Mr Trump told The Wall Street Journal that Mr Sessions, his top US Senate advocate, is also still in the mix.

Mr Pence is a steady, staunch conservative who would help calm nervous Republicans wary of Mr Trump's impulsive style. Mr Gingrich is a boisterous rabble-rouser who has spent decades in Washington, including a spell as House of Representatives speaker. Mr Christie, a one-time rival, has become one of Mr Trump's most trusted advisers.

Mr Trump has spent weeks consulting with friends and family as he weighs the most important decision of his campaign to date. He has also brought his finalists on tour, having them opening for him at speeches and rallies to test their receptions before his crowds.

"It's a little bit like The Apprentice," Mr Gingrich told Fox News Channel. "You find out sooner or later who the last one standing is."

Mr Trump appeared reluctant to commit on Wednesday. "I'm narrowing it down. I mean I'm at three, potentially four. But in my own mind, I probably am thinking about two," he told Fox News Channel's Bret Baier.

Introducing Mr Trump at a rally in Westfield, Indiana, on Tuesday evening, Mr Pence received an enthusiastic reception as he compared him to Republican icon Ronald Reagan and dug into his likely Democrat rival Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday he was looking for a "fighter skilled in hand-to-hand combat" as his second-in-command, but had not seen enough of Mr Pence to measure his fight.

While he kept his cards close, he spoke playfully of Mr Pence at the rally, saying: "I don't know whether he's going to be your governor or your vice president."

Mr Pence said on Wednesday he was "honoured by the attention" and the "opportunity to get to know this good man and his family".

Mr Pence and Mr Gingrich would be welcome picks among anxious Republican officials already gathering in Cleveland for next week's convention.

Their governing experience and popularity among the party's conservative base would mark a sharp contrast to Mr Trump, whose brand of politics has alienated hardline conservatives and establishment Republicans alike.

Mr Gingrich framed the choice for Mr Trump as a decision between a stabilising force who would help unify the party and a fellow outsider who clicked personally with the property mogul.

"One of the really hard questions he's got to weigh is do you really want a two-pirate ticket?" Mr Gingrich said of himself and Mr Trump.

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