Donald Trump picked conservative Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to be his running mate Friday — a move that’s likely to please many Republicans who’d been skeptical of their presumptive nominee’s own commitment to their party’s ideas.
Mr. Pence amassed one of the most conservative records during his six terms in Congress, and was one of his party’s few voices opposing President George W. Bush’s attempts to expand the federal role in education and entitlement spending. Several lawmakers this week labeled him “a conservatives’ conservative.”
Mr. Pence voted against both the No Child Left Behind education bill and was one of just 25 Republicans to oppose Mr. Bush’s plan to add a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program — a massive entitlement expansion that the GOP made no effort to offset.
But Mr. Pence was one of the biggest boosters of Mr. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and made a name for himself as a social issues champion, working on legislation to combat child exploitation, to back Israel, and to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.
“Mike Pence would bring a wealth of experience to the ticket, in terms of governance and legislative processes,” said Steve Yates, chairman of the Idaho GOP. “He is very well regarded in conservative circles and very well liked among many who have worked with him over the years. He would likely be seen as a reassuring pick to many Republican voters.”
Mr. Trump announced Mr. Pence’s selection via Twitter, and promised a full press conference Saturday. A full announcement had been planned for Friday morning but the Trump campaign put that off after Thursday’s attack in France.
It remains to be seen how Mr. Pence’s conservatism will mesh with Mr. Trump, who has staked out a more moderate stance on many social issues, and who has also called for canceling bad free trade deals and for deporting illegal immigrants.
Mr. Pence has supported free trade agreements and offered a plan to grant a speedy pathway to legalization to many illegal immigrants, requiring them to go home and quickly return to the U.S. if they have a job offer here.
That immigration plan had dented Mr. Pence among some conservatives several years back, but those fissures appear to have been overcome, with the Indianan winning praise this week from both Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep. Steve King of Iowa — two of the leaders in the pro-immigration enforcement movement.
Mr. Trump was under pressure to find a pick that would help unify a fractured GOP still recovering from a primary that exposed major fault lines within the party.
Mr. Pence, a media-friendly, politically savvy and fiercely conservative pick, could help with that. He has deep ties to Republicans on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Trump is still trying to build bridges, and is well-liked among the pro-life and religious conservative voters who are the shock troops of the Republican Party’s Election Day turnout operation.
Gary Bauer, a former GOP presidential candidate himself and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, said Mr. Pence’s selection provides a bridge for members of Congress to the Trump campaign, reassures values voters that Mr. Trump understands them, and gives the nominee a fierce fighter.
“He is a principled Reagan conservative and he’s not been shy over the years to push back against his own party when he felt that in the case, for example, Bush on No Child Left Behind, when Pence feels that they’re veering away from the core ideas of the Republican party,” Mr. Bauer said. “The idea that he’s low-key and not much of a fighter, I just think that’s totally missing the real bio of Mike Pence.”
Democrats said the Pence selection is “divisive.”
“Pence is the most extreme pick in a generation and was one of the earliest advocates for the tea party,” said John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Environmentalists, gay-rights groups and immigrant-rights advocates all complained about Mr. Pence Friday, saying he’s shown an antipathy toward their concerns.
Mr. Trump’s pick came just hours before Mr. Pence had to decide whether he would run for re-election this year as Indiana governor.
As governor, Mr. Pence ran into controversy after signing a law that backers said would protect religious freedom, but which gay-rights groups said was meant to allow businesses to refuse service to customers based on their sexual orientation. After a massive outcry from pro-gay rights businesses, Mr. Pence signed a new law specifically saying no business could refuse service based on sexual orientation.
The compromise pleased few: Gay-rights groups said the original law should have been repealed outright, while religious conservatives said Mr. Pence caved and gutted the law they wanted.
On Friday, however, those from all sides of the conservative spectrum rallied to Mr. Pence.
“This is a great day for conservatism and great news for conservatives,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “He is a proven leader who has worked with grass-roots conservatives to advance policies and solutions that strengthen our economy, our national defense, and our families.”
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