Trump in 2016 considered Pence a 'loser,' says a former top campaign official

Then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump on stage with Rick Gates, left, at the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016, in Cleveland. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump on stage with Rick Gates, left, at the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016, in Cleveland. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump for months resisted naming Mike Pence as his vice presidential running-mate during the 2016 campaign because he considered him a “loser,” according to a forthcoming book and interview with the president’s former deputy campaign manager.

“Why would I want a guy like that to be my VP?” Trump said when his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort pushed to have Pence, then governor of Indiana, as his running mate, according to the book, “Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed and America Lost” by Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy in the campaign.

The book is due to be released next week.

Trump’s resistance to Pence — which Gates expanded on in an interview for the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast — comes as the vice president is about to take center stage in Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate with Sen. Kamala Harris. The debate has taken on added significance in recent days due to Trump testing positive for COVID-19 and because his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, is 77 years old.

What sent Trump off, according to Gates, and caused him to push back at the idea of naming Pence as his running mate is that he saw polls in the spring of 2016 showing Pence was ten points behind in his bid to win reelection as governor. Trump’s comments, as relayed by Gates, seem especially ironic given that Biden is now ahead of Trump by 16 points, according to a new CNN poll published Tuesday.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Pence, at that time, he wasn’t polling well in Indiana,” said Gates in the “Skullduggery” interview. Trump “didn’t think he had a chance to win the governor’s race which is why he used the term ‘loser,” which he has used with many people, as we know.”

Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The campaign by Gates and Manafort to get Trump to pick Pence grew even tougher when Pence endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary, a move that made their candidate sour on the Hoosier governor even more. “It was a very, very difficult sell,” said Gates. “Trump did not want anything to do with Pence at that moment.”

But as Gates tells it, he and Manafort didn’t give up, convinced that Pence would shore up Trump’s candidacy in the Midwest. Their selling point was that Pence would not upstage Trump as vice president compared to the two other candidates who were then under serious consideration: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

They also argued that Trump didn’t need an “attack dog” as his vice presidential running mate — as presidential candidates often look for — because the candidate himself filled that role. “Paul [Manafort] really sold him on the idea, ‘Donald, why would you want somebody like you as your vice presidential running mate,” said Gates. “‘You are the hatchet guy. You’re the pit bull.’”

Trump, according to Gates, thought about it for a few minutes and realized he needed to pick a running mate different from himself.

Rick Gates
Rick Gates leaves federal court in Washington last December. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

The conversations about Pence were separate from another moment during the vice presidential discussions when, according to Gates, Trump even thought about naming his daughter, Ivanka Trump, as his running mate. Although Gates recognized this was “unconventional” and would likely never have happened, he explained that Trump contemplated the idea for a simple reason: “Who do you trust the most?”

Gates worked for eight years as the deputy to Manafort, when he was the chief political consultant for the Party of Regions, the pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, and then continued to serve as Manafort’s No. 2 during the several months in the spring and summer of 2016 when they were running Trump’s campaign. Gates and Manafort were both later indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for financial crimes and failing to register as foreign agents for Ukraine; Gates plead guilty, flipped and became a cooperating witness for Mueller, testifying against Manafort and former Trump political adviser Roger Stone in their trials.

But despite his ordeal, Gates has remained loyal to Trump, praising his record as president and criticizing the Mueller investigation in his book. Asked if he still thinks Trump can win reelection given his deficit in the polls, Gates said: “I would tell you absolutely today it is still too early to tell. If there is any lesson to learn from 2016, it is ‘Don’t watch the polls, the polls right now are an absolute waste of time.’”


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