Donald Trump’s selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate earned him some quick praise from party establishment figures, including Republicans on Capitol Hill. And for some GOP consultants, anxious to see a more focused and professional Trump operation, the Pence pick is a move in the right direction.
Leaving aside the disorganization surrounding Pence’s rollout, which only serves as further proof the campaign remains off the rails for staunch Trump critics, Pence clearly brings something to the ticket that Trump lacks: an intimate knowledge of the consulting industry and modern campaign tactics.
Pence “understands the traditional strategies and tactics of campaigns and he has similar grasp of the modern technologies we use to communicate with voters today,” said Pete Seat, an Indiana-based consultant who was the state GOP’s communications director during Pence’s first year as governor. “He’s personally worked with vendors at every level and knows what it takes to get a message out to the public.”
In fact, some of Pence’s consultants are already working for Trump. Pence used the Indianapolis-based Prosper Group for digital during his 2012 campaign. That firm is now consulting for Trump. Others may follow him to a campaign they’d been keeping at arm’s length.
Pence has long-term connections to some of the GOP’s top consultants including Rex Elsass, the GOP ad maker who has been Pence’s media consultant on his gubernatorial and House races. Elsass called Pence a “great selection that will energize the party's base.”
Jennifer Hallowell, an Indiana Republican consultant with no formal role with Pence, called him a “natural” campaigner who does well with voters one-on-one or on the stump.
“He has succeeded through tough campaigns and challenging circumstances and I believe he will approach this campaign in the same strong, thoughtful, steady manner,” Hallowell said in an email. “Governor Pence is highly regarded by prominent Republican donors and operatives throughout the country and he will be able to join Mr. Trump in assembling an expanded solid national campaign team.”
The question now is whether Pence will actually be able to exert much influence on a campaign structure that has developed a reputation as both insular and insecure. In contrast to Pence, Trump’s success this cycle has come from being unscripted, unorthodox and running a non-consultant centric campaign.
Before he announced his vice presidential pick, Trump said he was looking for a running mate who was a “fighter skilled in hand-to-hand combat.” And while Pence is no stranger to nasty election fights, it remains to be seen how well he’ll take to the attack dog role.
In 1990, during one of his first runs for Congress Pence ran an ad that “featured a man in a tacky robe with a thick Arab accent thanking [his Democratic opponent Rep. Philip] Sharp for his support of foreign oil.” Pence lost that race and subsequently penned an essay disavowing “negative campaigning.” Campaigns, he wrote, “ought to demonstrate the basic human decency of the candidate.”
He added: “Negative campaigning is born of that trap. But one day soon the new candidates will step forward, faces as fresh as the morning and hearts as brave as the dawn. This breed will turn away from running ‘to win’ and toward running ‘to stand.’ And its representatives will see the inside of as many offices as their party will nominate them to fill.”
Pence’s rhetorical abilities will certainly be tapped as the national media covering the campaign will seek to highlight his differing views from Trump on issues ranging from a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States to the TPP deal to NAFTA.
Still, even some consultants not backing Trump say the pick will help get the party behind the ticket. Chris Faulkner, a GOP consultant who worked for Marco Rubio during the 2016 primaries, called Pence a “great choice.”
"He excels in heartfelt oratory that conveys conservatism without the anger,” Faulkner said. “His smile and silver hair might be a great unifier before the convention."