Americans have seen awkward announcements in which presidential candidates have introduced their running mates. George H.W. Bush’s introduction of Dan Quayle quickly reinforced doubts about the then-senator’s abilities. When John Kerry announced John Edwards would be his running mate, Edwards wasn’t actually there. When Mitt Romney introduced Paul Ryan, he accidentally called the congressman “the next president of the United States.”
But it’s fair to say we haven’t seen anything quite like the scene this morning in New York.
By the time Donald Trump ushered Mike Pence on stage Saturday, 29 minutes had gone by – mostly Trump talking about Trump, not his new running mate.
Perhaps this was to be expected. Maybe, given Trump’s odd waffling and indecisiveness – culminating in widely reported second thoughts about the Indiana governor – it shouldn’t be too surprising that this morning’s introduction would be so bizarre.
But the Republican presidential ticket had plenty of time to get this right. They didn’t.
About half-way through a long, rambling, self-indulgent diatribe that largely ignored the man who was supposed to be the subject of the speech, Trump told his audience:
“Back to Mike Pence. So one of the primary reasons I chose Mike was I looked at Indiana, and I won Indiana big. Remember, Indiana was going to be the firewall. That’s where Trump was going to – they agreed I’d win New York, I’d win Pennsylvania, I’d win all these places. But Indiana was going to be the firewall. So I got to study Indiana, and I got to study New York and a lot of other places, and I saw how NAFTA, signed by Bill Clinton, has drained our manufacturing jobs, just drained us like we’ve never been drained before. NAFTA, again, signed by Bill Clinton. NAFTA is the worst economic deal in the history of our country. Manufacturing down in some states 55 percent, 60 percent. It’s a horror show, moving to Mexico, moving to other places.”
“Back to Mike Pence” was a fascinating realization that Trump apparently forgot the point of this morning’s event, but note that Trump didn’t actually transition to talking about Pence at all. Rather, he talked about his own primary campaign, before complaining about NAFTA – a trade deal that Mike Pence enthusiastically supports.
Even when introducing his running mate to a national audience, Donald J. Trump really only wanted to talk about his favorite subject: Donald J. Trump. As the Washington Post put it, “Trump botched his first chance on Friday to ensure America understood why he’d (apparently rather grudgingly) selected Pence as his running mate; on Saturday, he spent most of his words talking about himself.”
But that’s really just the tip of a ridiculous iceberg.
When Trump wasn’t talking about himself, he was focused on Hillary Clinton, not Mike Pence.
When Trump boasted about opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning – a brazen lie – it didn’t seem to occur to him that this was an odd choice of topics: Pence was one of the disastrous war’s most unrepentant cheerleaders.
After speaking at some length about his primary victories – which hardly seemed relevant this morning – Trump said, “One of the big reasons I chose Mike is party unity, I have to be honest.” That may be true, but as a rule, presidential candidates are supposed to say they chose their running mate because they’re the best person for the job, not because partisan goals are foremost on their mind.
Similarly, Trump devoted parts of his speech to Indiana’s primary – the one in which Mike Pence endorsed Ted Cruz over Trump. Trump explained this by saying this morning that Pence supported his rival because he caved to “tremendous pressure from establishment people.” Apparently, this was supposed to be a compliment.
When the presumptive nominee eventually tried to mention something positive about the Indiana governor, he pointed to things like the state’s unemployment rate and balanced budget, but did so in a way that didn’t make any sense at all.
But even these references to Pence were forced, as if Trump only sporadically remembered why he was there. The New York Republican talked about his real-estate deals, his Brexit predictions, Hillary Clinton’s email server protocols, and even the attempted coup in Turkey, but the man of the hour – the one person Trump was supposed to celebrate and cheer – was treated as an afterthought.
Not long after Trump wrapped up, Vox’s Ezra Klein, obviously gobsmacked, wrote, “I do not know how to explain what I just watched…. Donald Trump’s introduction of Mike Pence was shocking. Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the mainstream for normal human behavior.”
Ezra added that this was “a scary speech to watch, and insofar as the presidential campaign is a test to see who has the character, the discipline, and the seriousness to be President of the United States, Trump is failing it. We need to stay shocked.”
That’s excellent advice.