Indiana Gov. Mike Pence told a national television audience Sunday night that he and running mate Donald Trump may have different styles but “I promise you, our vision is exactly the same.”
In a joint interview with Trump on "60 Minutes"—their first since the Indiana governor joined the GOP ticket—Pence went on to tailor his views on refugees, negative campaigning and trade to better match those of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s.
But even as Pence said the men have plenty in common and Trump insisted they have “very, very good chemistry,” some political observers said their interaction appeared forced.
“Trump attempted to project good chemistry—leaning into Pence a few different times,” said national Republican pollster Christine Matthews. “But visually it wasn't there and you get the sense that this won't end well.”
Stu Rothenberg, founder of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, said the men felt less like partners and more like Pence’s role was that of a public relations professional, interrupting here and there to guide the conversation back on message.
“It seemed clear to me [Pence] thought sometimes Trump was veering in the wrong direction and he jumped in to help,” Rothenberg said. “That was only a reminder over and over again that Trump needs someone beside him to change the topic, change the focus, redefine the issue.”
Trump confirmed on Friday that Pence, who was elected Indiana governor in 2012 after a dozen years in the U.S. House, would be his running mate. But some sources later claimed that Trump had waffled on the choice.
Then, in a rambling, joint event on Saturday, Trump maintained that Pence was indeed his first choice. But the two only appeared on stage together briefly and Trump talked far more about his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton than he did about Pence.
That set the stage for their "60 Minutes" interview, which was taped Saturday with reporter Lesley Stahl and aired Sunday. Stahl asked Pence and Trump repeatedly about the areas in which they disagree and asked Pence if he’d be willing to walk into the Oval Office and challenge Trump on politics or policy.
That drew a chuckle from both men. But Pence said he would “have no hesitation, were I privileged to be vice president, to walk into the president's office, close the door, and share my heart.”
“One of the things I found out about this man is he appreciates candor,” Pence said. And he added that, “I also know this good man would listen, and has, and has the leadership qualities to draw from the people around him.”
That was one of the many times Pence praised Trump. He called Trump a “good man who's been talking about the issues the American people care about” and said that Trump “embodies American strength.”
“What Pence seemed to want to do in this interview was to serve as a character witness for Donald Trump,” Matthews said. “He nodded, and he chuckled and he seemed to imply that what he had seen a few times in private was different than what we are all seeing publicly.”
But Matthews said she was concerned to see Pence “nodding so much when Donald Trump wasn't making sense.” And she said the governor must have been “doing mental gymnastics in his head” sometimes to bring their views together.
On immigration, Pence had previously tweeted that Trump had it wrong when he said he would ban Muslims from entering the country. But, on Sunday night, Pence agreed with Trump's slightly softened stance on the issue, pointing out that he had acted to ban Syrian refugees from coming to Indiana (a move a court ruled unconstitutional).
On trade, Pence said that both he and Trump support free trade—and indeed Pence repeatedly voted for trade agreements when he was in Congress and has called for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But Trump is highly critical of the TPP, NAFTA and other deals. But Pence said both men agree that provisions of NAFTA, for example, should be reconsidered.
And on the war in Iraq it was Trump who tweaked his views to suit Pence. After more than a year railing on Democrat Hillary Clinton for voting to authorize the war, Trump forgave Pence the same vote, saying, “he’s entitled to make a mistake every once in a while.” Clinton, however, is not, Trump said.
Rothenberg said Pence did “fine” on such points.
“Pence was good,” he said. “Pence was like he always is: intense, controlled, focused, on message.”
But he said that because Trump’s personality is so big and so dominant, Pence just seems irrelevant, and the relationship is lacking the father/son-style bond that united Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan or the chemistry between Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
“This was a politician and the Republican nominee—however you want to characterize him– sitting together in an interview,” Rothenberg said. “I thought Pence did fine but it was all I thought.”