CLEVELAND — Indiana Republican Craig Dunn said that his state’s governor, Mike Pence, “is going to be a firefighter” — extinguishing political blazes caused by presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Pence, the new GOP vice presidential nominee, is widely expected to carry out the key duty of defending Trump among Republicans still skeptical of his candidacy. He is likely to be called on to clarify Trump’s ever-shifting views on policy and to pay special attention to key battleground states — two things he did before lunch on Thursday. Pence is also preparing to play an active role on the fundraising circuit, tapping his strong connections to some of the GOP’s deepest pockets to help raise millions of dollars for the Trump campaign.
“They’re going to have extra work for him. And he can handle the extra work,” Dunn said.
Pence’s speech introducing himself to the nation as Trump’s running mate was overshadowed by the convention hall uproar over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who was booed off the stage after refusing to endorse the GOP nominee. Nonetheless, many delegates here paid close attention to Pence’s address and felt he skillfully described his humble Indiana upbringing to a nation still widely unfamiliar with him.
He cited his political hero, Ronald Reagan, telling the convention, “This is another time for choosing” — a play on the premise of a famous 1964 speech by the president. He touted his deep Christian faith and promised Republicans that Trump would cut taxes and defend Israel. And he repeatedly attacked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but did so with a softer touch than Trump.
Pence “exuded solid conservative values, stability, and a long record of service to the conservative movement — a total counterbalance to Trump,” said Chip Nottingham, a delegate from the District of Columbia who was part of a bitter clash here this week between GOP leaders and hundreds of delegates who attempted to slow or halt Trump’s nomination.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the conservative chairman of the House Budget Committee, described Pence’s remarks as “just wonderful” and predicted that Republican congressional candidates facing tough reelection fights would “absolutely” campaign with him in the coming months.
“What Donald Trump did was genius in balancing the ideological and geographic perspective and the style factor that people may want to see. I think it’s an excellent ticket,” Price added.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who initially supported Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for president, said his wife correctly predicted that Trump would pick Pence, “a longtime family friend.”
“Mr. Trump was my fifth choice, but she has said all along that he would surround himself with capable people,” he said.
In the coming weeks, Pence plans to play an active role as one of the main conduits between the Trump operation and the GOP donor class, according to people familiar with the plans. Pence’s team is already building out an active fundraising schedule for him, including phone time with donors — something Trump dislikes doing — and high-dollar finance events across the country.
The Indiana governor has close ties to some of the wealthiest contributors in the party, both through the Republican Governors Association and the Koch political network, where he has long been a favorite. While the network does not plan to target resources on the White House ticket, some of its top donors expressed excitement and relief that Pence got the vice presidential nod, and have already volunteered to host events for him.
But he still faces some concerns across the Republican spectrum.
Bill Bennett, the radio talk show host and former Reagan education secretary, graded Pence’s convention speech a “solid B+.”
“It was a good solid thing. That’s the word — solid — that keeps coming up when we talk about Pence. He’ll never upstage Trump,” he said.
But Bennett also said the speech “didn’t grip,” saying that former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham delivered better convention speeches.
Guy Short, a Colorado delegate also involved in the earlier delegate fight, liked the speech but wanted Pence to talk more about his sudden political conversion.
“I do wish he would have addressed the unity issue head-on,” he said. “It’s a big reason he was picked. Pence was where many of us are now. Help us get to where you are, Mike. Tell us how you did it. How did you overcome some of the larger disagreements and the seeming contradiction in tone between you and Donald Trump?”
On Thursday morning, Pence was on the Fox News Channel clarifying Trump’s views on NATO. In an interview with the New York Times published on Wednesday night as Pence addressed delegates, Trump said he would consider defending nations in the military alliance only after reviewing whether they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”
“I’m very confident that Donald Trump will stand by our allies and stop apologizing to our enemies,” Pence told Fox, adding later: “We’re going to begin to say to allies around the world that the time has come for them and their citizens to carry the cost of these international obligations.”
Pence also attended a Thursday breakfast meeting for Pennsylvania delegates, vowing that Republicans would win the state in a presidential race for the first time since 1988.
“Everyone here today I hope will leave this convention, will leave that floor tonight, will leave this city tomorrow, more determined than ever to change the direction of our nation back to strength at home and abroad by electing Donald Trump,” he said, according to local news reports.
Amid his new breakneck schedule, Pence also took time to stop by a breakfast for Indiana delegates. The appearance was such a surprise that many members of the delegation weren’t there to see him, while the governor’s new Secret Service detail kept some of his old political colleagues at bay.
That’s a far cry from three weeks ago, when Dunn said he was out shooting sporting clays with Pence.
“It’s a different world than what it was three weeks ago,” he said.
Matea Gold and David Weigel contributed to this report.