A split appears to be emerging among conservatives about who Donald Trump should choose as his vice president, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepares to announce his running mate, according to conversations with several prominent Republicans.
Members of the Council for National Policy – a powerful conservative organization – is meeting this week in Cleveland to discuss policy and political strategy ahead of the Republican National Convention. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus are among the speakers expected to address the gathering.
But a buzzing topic among attendees is who will Trump choose as his running mate and there seems to be a divide about who it should be.
“Mike Pence would be fabulous,” as Trump’s running mate, said one attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He walks with us. He talks with us. He is one of us.”
But Pence, the Indiana governor, is also viewed with suspicious eyes by some conservatives for agreeing to amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) last year.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that Pence would have been a good choice had he not amended RFRA in 2015.
“I think there would be a number of conservatives who would have problems … with religious liberty being such a critical issue,” Perkins said of Pence as Trump’s vice presidential running mate in an interview Thursday.
“I am not saying there is not going to be any support,” for Pence if he his chosen as Trump’s running mate, “but I am saying it would not be optimal for him,” Perkins said.
Perkins noted that a solid choice for conservatives of all stripes would be Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is said to be advising Trump on his vice presidential decision.
Chris Christie, another possible nominee, is viewed skeptically by at least one prominent conservative, Ken Blackwell, who emailed more than 200 conservative leaders on Tuesday night with the subject line: “Christie is NOT a conservative!”
“Christie has been on the wrong side of a number of key issues,” Blackwell wrote, referencing his record on Obamacare, taxes and judicial appointments. “We need to make it clear that a Christie nomination for vice president would be unacceptable to conservatives!”
Another attendee of this week’s CNP meeting noted that Trump would be better served choosing Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.
“I think Gingrich is the safest bet,” said the attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noting that Gingrich can play the role as chief critic of Hillary Clinton as well as help Trump navigate Washington. Still Gingrich, who has been married three times, is not fully beloved by all conservatives.
Perkins noted that Trump’s selection of a running mate is critical if the presumptive GOP nominee wants to secure the full backing of the conservative movement.
“He has to hit a home run with his VP pick. So far, he has made all the right moves,” said Perkins, who praised Trump for releasing a list of names of judges he would nominate for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court as well as allowing social conservatives to help drive the discussion this week on the RNC platform.
“I think if he makes the right pick, he will be on his way to solidifying conservative support,” Perkins said. “I have to say that he is winning me over – slowly I am coming along.”