Just a couple hours ago, everything seemed so simple: Donald Trump was going to pick Mike Pence as his running mate, and the dives into Pence’s background and analysis of the choice were beginning.
It seems everyone forgot who they were dealing with: the mercurial Donald Trump, showman extraordinaire.
Suddenly things aren’t nearly as clear. A slew of news organizations, including The New York Times, reported that the pick was as good as done, but now it looks like a Pence pick is an informed intelligent wager, but nothing more. Reuters, for example, cites a source who says Trump has already told the RNC he selected the Indiana governor:
BREAKING: Trump told Republican officials he picked Indiana Governor Mike Pence as running mate - source— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) July 14, 2016
But less than a half-hour later, The Washington Post’s Robert Costa said no one had called any of the VP candidates:
UPDATE: Two senior Trump campaign officials tell @PhilipRucker and me that Trump has NOT yet called Pence or other VP prospects— Robert Costa (@costareports) July 14, 2016
On a Facebook Live event, meanwhile, Newt Gingrich—one of the leading contenders—said he hadn’t heard from Trump yet but expected to get word Thursday afternoon.
“I think it’s pretty clear it’s come down now to Governor Mike Pence, an old friend of mine in Indiana, and myself,” he said. “I’m very flattered to be in that group.” Who knows how reliable his estimation that he’s in the final two was; in any case, he didn’t know more: “Like you, I’m looking forward to the next 24 hours.”
NBC News’s Katy Tur heard directly from Trump’s son after 2 p.m. that Trump hadn’t even decided and there were still three possibilities:
EXCLUSIVE @DonaldJTrumpJr tells me "It's down to 3." Trump will decide this afternoon.— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) July 14, 2016
In most situations, all of these reporters are extremely reliable; in this case, the accounts are sometimes fundamentally at odds. What on earth is going on?
One factor here is that it’s tough to get a good hold on what’s going on inside Trumpworld. His inside team is tightly knit and very small, consisting largely of family members. That means the number of people who really know what’s going on is minuscule. A source may sincerely believe something but simply be incorrect. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Trump aide has been unaware of what the boss was thinking.
Or maybe the Pence pick was just a big, cruel trial balloon, calibrated to see how the political world would react to his selection. (Matea Gold reports, for example, that picking Pence wouldn’t convince the Koch brothers to move their large political organization into action in the presidential race.) Or what if Trump just did a massive head fake in order to show how credulous and easily distracted the media are? (If so: We doff our fedora, with “press” card in the band, to you, sir.)
Or maybe this is just Trump being Trump. He has vacillated 180 degrees on plenty of other issues in this campaign, and maybe he was set on Pence but then got cold feet and is trying to decide again. Besides, as cliche as it has been to compare Trump’s political operation to a reality show, the hallmarks are all here. Trump has transfixed the political world with the will-he-or-won’t-he dance over the last few days, summoning the likes of Gingrich to Indiana to meet with him and allowing the Pence speculation to grow to a roar. There aren’t many ways to ratchet up the drama ahead of the finale and unveiling of a winner, but Trump, of course, is no apprentice. He is an expert.