Donald Trump’s vice presidential search turned into a head-spinning melodrama Wednesday as candidates vying for the spot hopped on planes and phones to perform frenzied, last-minute try-outs.
For much of the day, Indiana was the unlikely center of the political world — all thanks to a flat tire.
Trump’s plane hit something when it landed Tuesday night, resulting in a popped tire, according to a source familiar with the process. That kept Trump in the state longer than he expected after campaigning with Gov. Mike Pence, setting off a last-minute scramble of high-profile travelers to the Hoosier State as the clock ticked down on his VP decision.
Concerned Trump was unsure and torn about his choice and maybe leaning in a direction they didn’t like, his children — Eric, Don Jr. and Ivanka — hopped on a plane early in the morning to reach him. Trump and his children wound up having breakfast with Pence at the governor’s mansion.
The plane malfunction set off a domino effect with others: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich flew to Indianapolis to meet with Trump on a private jet provided by Fox News host Sean Hannity, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. He was later seen leaving a hotel in the same motorcade as Trump’s children.
Trump spoke to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the phone for a conversation that included talk about the vice presidency.
And Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions arrived in Indianapolis to meet with Trump to serve as another adviser as the presumptive GOP nominee makes his final decision on a running mate.
Earlier in the day, a Trump spokesperson said the meetings were held in Indiana to allow Trump more time with Pence.
The process of choosing a vice presidential partner is a crucial one that often provides early insight into how a nominee might approach the presidency.
Most presumptive nominees operate their vice presidential search quest under intense secrecy with potential candidates sneaking to cloak-and-dagger meetings to avoid the press and maintain the element of surprise ahead of the final announcement.
Trump’s search is entering its final phase. Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, told CNN Wednesday evening that Trump will make his announcement Friday in New York.
Trump later tweeted: “I will be making the announcement of my Vice Presidential pick on Friday at 11am in Manhattan. Details to follow.”
Intrigue in Indianapolis
The presumptive nominee has not yet made a final decision. But he said in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that he was trimming his short-list.
“I’m narrowing it down. I mean I’m at three, potentially four. But in my own mind, I probably am thinking about two,” he said.
Trump has spend the past several days publicly giving potential running mates a trial run on the campaign trail. And the feverish endgame of his search suggests a penchant for intrigue, an unpredictable streak and — above all — a desire to make a splash as the comings and goings Wednesday triggered a media circus.
The lobby of the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis suddenly became the epicenter of the 2016 campaign — with reporters and passersby straining for a sighting of Trump or any of his possible running mates, speculation running rife about the former reality star’s intentions.
Next door, at The Capital Grille, local politicians and lobbyists buzzed about what the future held in store for homeboy Pence, who rocketed up the list of possible vice presidential nominees after spending significant face time with Trump in the last few days.
Donald Trump Jr. summed up the whirlwind developments with a tweet: “Amazing trip to Indiana today. Fast but very productive.”
With Trump’s mind not yet made up, the intrigue focused attention on exactly what kind of qualities the GOP presumptive nominee is looking for in a running mate.
One of the biggest questions is whether he will opt for someone with a reputation as a partisan scrapper who could defend him in the media and lambast Democrat Hillary Clinton, or if he will choose someone viewed as a safer political partner who could bring more sobriety to his volatile campaign.
One source said Trump wants a “fighter” and Christie — the tough talking former prosecutor — fits the bill.
“I’m getting attacked from all sides,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. Though he was not in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Christie, one of the first major politicians to back Trump before he captured the nomination, is still very much under consideration, multiple sources told CNN reporters.
“Trump’s gut is Christie,” one source said. The New Jersey governor spent the day in back-to-back meetings in Washington as he leads Trump’s transition team.
Trump spoke of his kinship with Christie, with whom several sources said he talks every day.
“I tell you, Chris Christie is somebody I’ve liked a long time; he’s a total professional. He’s a good guy, by the way, a lot of people don’t understand that,” he said on Fox News.
But on Wednesday, Trump told Fox: “I just want to pick up somebody that’s solid, who’s smart. I’m not looking for an attack dog. Frankly, I’m looking for somebody that really understands what we’re talking about.”
And if Trump wants someone more conventional, he could turn to Pence. The Indiana governor has credibility with social conservatives who are among the most suspicious of Republican Party constituencies towards Trump.
Trump and Pence met privately before a fundraiser in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening, and then Pence got a try-out at a rally in nearby Westfield. The Trumps and Pences dined together at the Capital Grille in Indianapolis, staying past midnight.
A source close to Pence told CNN’s MJ Lee that when asked about the vice presidential race it “sure feels like Pence.” But noting the sheer unpredictability of dealing with the man making the decision, they emphasized: “This is Trump we are talking about.”
When CNN asked how the breakfast with Pence went on Wednesday, Trump gave a thumbs-up. An adviser said the encounter was “cordial” but added that the billionaire had yet to finalize his decision on a running mate.
At Tuesday’s rally, Pence slammed Clinton, saying that “to paraphrase the director of the FBI, I think it would be ‘extremely careless’ to elect Hillary Clinton as president.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Pence said he was “humbled to be a part” of the process.
“Trump’s giving it very careful consideration,” he told reporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “I’m just honored to be on that list.”
Choice not yet made
A Trump adviser, however, disputed conventional wisdom that Pence could steady or moderate the voluble Republican presumptive nominee on the stump. In fact, this person said, having him as a more temperate running mate could prompt Trump to become even more unconventional.
“Mike is not going to go and defend Trump the way he needs it — the way a Newt or a Christie would, or even the way a Sessions has,” the adviser said.
Some donors are pressuring Trump to pick Gingrich as his vice president.
A source close to Sheldon Adelson told CNN that the casino magnate spoke to Trump and said that “he liked Newt.”
Marking the unpredictability of the state of affairs, Trump was still making calls to people in recent days.
Trump even reached out again to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, after a donor encouraged him to make the call over the weekend. Rice, though, doesn’t want the job, according to a separate source familiar with the process.
At a fundraiser in the Hamptons last weekend, The New York Times reported: “When an attendee suggested Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, Mr. Trump said they had irreconcilable differences over the Iraq War.”