By Emily Stephenson
FRESHLY minted as his party’s choice for the White House, Republican Donald Trump will make a display of solidarity on Wednesday with his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a social conservative who is at odds with Trump on many issues.
Pence, the keynote speaker on the third day of the Republican convention in Cleveland, has been well received by people in the party’s social conservative wing, who have been skeptical of Trump’s commitment to opposing abortion and same-sex marriage but who trust his running mate.
But joint appearances between the two men have been awkward. Trump and Pence shared the stage only briefly on Saturday when Pence publicly agreed to be Trump’s running mate, and their first televised interview together, on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” was not smooth.
For example, asked about Pence’s support for the Iraq war while he was a U.S. lawmaker, Trump responded, “I don’t care,” saying Pence was allowed to make occasional mistakes. When the interviewer asked if Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton should get the same wiggle room on her own vote for the war when she was a U.S. senator, Trump said, “No.”
In an echo of Trump’s unorthodox journey from businessman and reality TV star to party standard-bearer, the choreography of the convention has been uneven, contrasting with what is generally a smoothly coordinated display of support for a party presidential candidate. Trump, who is trailing Clinton in opinion polls, was formally anointed on Tuesday evening as the White House nominee for the Nov. 8 election.
Anti-Trump delegates at the gathering on the shores of Lake Erie disrupted the convention on Monday to shout their displeasure and Tuesday’s session was intended to focus on the economy, but few speakers hewed to the theme.
Allegations that a speech by the nominee’s wife, Melania, plagiarized passages from a Michelle Obama address in 2008, have dominated media coverage.
Republican grandees such as the party’s previous two presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain, and members of the Bush family have stayed away from Cleveland in a show of displeasure at Trump and his rhetoric against illegal immigration and free trade.
Several convention delegates called Trump’s choice of running mate a step toward uniting a bitterly divided Republican Party and working to build bridges with the party’s establishment. Pence’s performance on Wednesday, and his public rapport with Trump, could help to sell hesitant Republicans at home on the duo.
Pence will speak in prime time on Wednesday, a day dedicated by convention organizers to “Make America First Again.” Earlier in the day, he will appear with his wife, Karen, Trump and his family at a welcome event.
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said Trump and Pence had begun to gel. “They may have different personalities but they have similar visions,” he said. “I’m comfortable that it’s a less awkward situation than I’ve seen in many marriages,” Manafort told reporters.
On Tuesday, Pence delivered a surprise address to a conservative group in Cleveland and repeatedly compared Trump to late Republican President Ronald Reagan, a favorite among the party faithful. He said he had gotten to know Trump and knew he cared about helping Americans.
“For all the world he reminds me of Ronald Reagan,” Pence said. “My fellow conservatives, it’s time for us to come together. Come together around this good man.”
Another potentially awkward moment could come when U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a leading former rival to Trump for the Republican nomination, speaks to the convention on Wednesday.
Cruz has not endorsed Trump and so far has given no indication that he plans to, following a bitter and personal primary campaign, in which Trump insulted Cruz’s wife’s looks and suggested the Texan’s father was with John F. Kennedy’s assassin just before the president was shot.
During the primary campaign, Cruz called the New York real estate developer a “serial philanderer” and a “narcissist.”
Manafort told reporters that Cruz was still working on his remarks.
“I’m comfortable that Senator Cruz is going to talk about his vision for America, themes that he’s talked about in the campaign,” Manafort said. “And I think he’ll say something, give a sign where he is on Donald Trump, that will be pleasing to the Trump campaign and to the Republicans.”
Manafort also told CNN he expected Cruz to have some role in the campaign in the future but was not sure in what capacity.