The Pence pick: The time Trump didn't go with his gut

Story highlights

  • Pence flew to New York Thursday afternoon but Trump was still discussing the decision as late as midnight
  • Trump announced Pence as his VP choice Friday on Twitter

(CNN)The calls from Donald Trump to his son-in-law Jared Kushner and other close advisers kept coming until midnight. The campaign had flown Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to New York to be his vice presidential choice, but Trump was still questioning his decision.

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Trump, a man most comfortable going with his gut, had made his most important decision as a candidate based on political pragmatism, according to sources familiar with the events. He was swayed by his children and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who had persuaded him that Pence would do more to strengthen Trump's campaign and unify the party than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- a man whose style and personality more closely matches the presumptive Republican nominee.
    The selection of Pence had gained momentum during a week of serendipity for the governor. From the moment that Pence had hosted Trump at his Indianapolis home for breakfast Wednesday, he told his team he had a strong premonition that he was going to be the vice presidential pick.
    Trump had dined with Pence the night before, and then because of a popped tire on his plane, was captive in Indianapolis. That gave Pence, and more importantly Trump's children and his advisers, an extra day to convince him.
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    As late as Tuesday, advisers say, Trump had been leaning toward Christie, his longtime friend and now trusted adviser. Weeks earlier, Trump's children had been leaning toward Newt Gingrich, several sources said, dazzled by the former House speaker's charm and encyclopedic knowledge of politics.
    Trump has long been skittish about confrontation with those who are loyal to him, and Christie had stood with him longer than most. So Trump kept calling him Thursday, not quite saying he had chosen Pence, but trying to convince Christie to take the job of attorney general.
    Everyone around Trump knew Pence was the logical -- if boring -- choice, the kind of guy everyone describes as "nice" but one who would be the first to blush if Trump told an off-color joke. He and Trump scarcely knew each other, and his understated demeanor could not be more different than Trump's brash style.
    Trump's children and Manafort decided Pence was the safe choice; someone who could be trusted, a calm, reliable counter force to Trump's unpredictable and erratic tangents.
    So as Trump was off in California on a fundraising trip Thursday, he and Pence spoke several times. But no formal offer was made. Trump just could not quite bring himself to do it.
    As CNN and other news outlets reported that all signs pointed to Pence, the candidate's seeming indecision began playing out in full public view in a humiliating fashion for Pence.
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    The presumptive presidential nominee did a morning interview in California insisting to the Michael Savage Radio Show that he was still deciding. His advisers pushed back hard on reporters, telling them he hadn't made up his mind.
    Close Pence allies -- already divided on whether Pence should risk his largely unsullied reputation by joining the ticket of the slick real estate magnate -- began to panic.
    Perhaps Pence's instincts had been wrong and the earnest, quick-to-trust governor had been misled. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking toward the Friday noon deadline for Pence to withdraw from the gubernatorial race.
    The critical player in all of this, Manafort, stepped in to take control.
    He was already juggling two critical tasks Thursday -- quashing the anti-Trump rebellion at the Rules Committee meeting in Cleveland with his fleet of lawyers, while working the phones to get Trump to the final decision that he and the children, along with Kushner, wanted.
    On Thursday morning, Manafort was spotted huddling in a hallway with RNC top strategist Sean Spicer and Trump spokesman Jason Miller, before retreating behind closed doors with Miller in room 12 inside the underground Huntington Convention Center.
    Taking advantage of the serpentine back hallways and exits of the convention center, Manafort slipped back to Trump headquarters inside the Westin hotel, where only aides wearing special pins --- a white circle bearing either a blue star or a red star --- could access the sixth and seventh floors.
    Though his boss was insisting publicly that he was undecided, Manafort sent word for Pence to get on the private plane that would ferry the governor from Indianapolis to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, setting the wheels in motion for the announcement.
    Pence was hesitant to fly to New York, knowing that events did not unfold as he expected, it could be a humiliating trip and cost him the governor's office. But he boarded the plane.
    Trump was frustrated by reports that he had picked Pence while he was "six hours and three time zones away," one senior adviser said. He was still troubled by his conversations with Christie -- wrestling with the instinct to go with his advisers' guidance or his gut.
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    He had already delayed his Friday announcement of his running-mate because of the terror attack in France, and that gave him even more time to reason through his choice.
    Pence, trailed by news cameras upon landing in New Jersey, was already at the Intercontinental Hotel in New York when an aide called him frantically, telling him to turn on Fox News where Trump was insisting in an interview that he had not made a "final, final decision."
    But Pence remained calm and was convinced that Trump would keep his word.
    Trump kept calling Manafort and his son-in-law until midnight, asking whether he could reverse his decision. He was told he could not.
    Trump's campaign says the midnight wavering didn't happen.
    "Nonsense," said Donald Trump Jr.
    "This is completely false. Zero truth to it," tweeted Jason Miller, a senior communications adviser. And a senior Trump adviser called the story a "rumor."
    Miller also insisted to CNN that the Pence decision was in no way forced on the presumptive nominee but was his own choice.
    Friday morning, Trump confirmed the news by Twitter he was going with Pence. It was yet another coup for his children and his top adviser.
    "I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate. News conference tomorrow at 11:00 A.M," he tweeted.
    In Midtown Manhattan Friday, Pence told reporters he was "very excited, very humbled and very grateful."
    "We love Indiana, we love our country," he said. "My family and I couldn't be more honored to have the opportunity to run with and serve with the next president of the United States."
    But many others saw the events of the past 24 as an inauspicious start to the partnership. "Manafort's hair will be white by Labor Day," one establishment GOP operative told CNN's Gloria Borger.
    Knowing Trump's discomfort with the Trump pick -- and the fact that he would listen closely to how the Indiana Governor's addition to the ticket played on television -- Team Trump leaned heavily on GOP allies and grassroots groups to pump up the praise for Pence.
    They made an aggressive play through friends and associates to get over-the-top praise in numerous statements that have trickled out since the pick from fiscal conservative organizations like Club for Growth and anti-abortion groups.
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    That allowed them to go to Trump during his hours of indecision and point to accolades flowing in. One top Trump adviser told CNN they needed to "pump him up that this was the right pick" and the "unity ticket."
    His staff made sure he saw all the complimentary statements from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and the assorted groups.
    The question of how comfortable Trump is with Pence, however, still stands.
    Upon arriving at Trump Tower, a reporter asked if Pence thought Trump ever changed his mind.
    The governor turned around to listen, smiled, then continued to walk into the building.