“So Kasich got out because it was enough, right? Well, that’s alright. That’s the smart thing.”
So began a phone interview Wednesday afternoon with Donald Trump, still adjusting to his status as the presumptive Republican nominee. An hour earlier, John Kasich’s campaign confirmed that the Ohio governor would end his presidential bid.
When told that Kasich made his decision suddenly Wednesday, just before he was scheduled to fly to Washington, Trump quickly asked for details of the scene. “He turned the plane around? He said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore?’ Wow.”
Bustling around Trump, audibly, were several aides, including his strategist Paul Manafort and his longtime assistant Rhona Graff. Trump raised his voice in between questions, asking them about his schedule and meetings past and present.
“We’re doing NBC ‘Nightly News’ in a bit from here,” Trump said, explaining the commotion as he gazed out at Central Park from his soaring skyscraper’s 25th floor.
That interview (and this one) were part a seemingly nonstop stream Trump did Wednesday, kicking off at 6 a.m. by phone with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” And he did them all from Trump Tower, his home and campaign headquarters.
Each television sit-down and story had their own feel and pace but they all shared a certain theme from the subject. Following his blow-out victory in Tuesday’s Indiana primary that was soon followed by Kasich and his top rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, leaving the Republican race, Trump was keen to relish his success.
Whenever reporters would ask about what’s next — his vice-presidential pick, the need to unite the party — Trump would try to turn the crux of the conversation back to the Hoosier State, back to famed basketball coach Bob Knight and his crucial endorsement, as if he didn’t want it all to be forgotten in the aftermath.
“We had a tremendous victory yesterday. Those numbers were phenomenal. We won with every single group,” Trump marveled. “We won every county. Every single county.”
“Do you remember when Ted Cruz said it’d be his firewall? You know, I was down in Indiana only a few weeks ago,” Trump said. He paused for dramatic effect. “Well.”
“You saw the numbers, right?” Trump asked.
But back to the veepstakes. Is Kasich on his short list?
“Let’s put it this way: he’s rising rapidly,” Trump said.
“I’ve always liked him. I got along with him. We had a good time. And so, I’ve always felt good about him. . . . In fact, on the debate stage, often times, he and I would be talking during the intermissions. Others, I wasn’t talking to and perhaps others weren’t talking to me.”
Does Kasich’s home state, which could be a battleground this fall, factor into Trump’s calculus?
“Well, a lot of times it happens, you pick someone for their state, but it doesn’t always work out very well. There are other things to consider,” Trump said. “For me, the number one qualification always is, would they be a good president?”
Number two: having a rapport.
“Having a working relationship with the person is going to be very important. You have to have good chemistry. In all fairness, when Obama chose Biden, it was an odd choice and yet they have very good chemistry together and therefore it was a good choice for them. So having good chemistry is very important.”
Trump hasn’t decided yet on who exactly will be responsible for the vetting. “Over the next week or two” he expects to hire a firm and assign several staffers to the project.
“We’ll have standard vetting questions and there are firms that could help us do this,” Trump said. “There are people that do this professionally. We’ll get there and we’ll do standard vetting.” He declined to get into details, such as whether he would require tax returns or other specific documents from contenders.
Ben Carson will play a role in the process. “He’s part of the team. Ben is a fantastic guy, I’ve become very friendly with him and have tremendous respect for him. He came in early and said there is a movement, I’d like to be part of it. He’s a good person and a smart person and he’ll be involved in lots of things.”
Who else will be involved? “It’s really too early to say.”
When asked about Cruz and whether the Texan will offer his support, Trump was sanguine.
“I hope he comes in. I think he will. I hope he does. I like him,” he said. “I’ve always liked him and got along with him until the last month when it got extremely competitive. He’s a very competitive guy. I said that last night. We’ll have to see what happens. I mean, we’ll have to see what happens.”
Trump was more optimistic about another former competitor, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“I’ve spoken to him. I like him. We only had one bad moment in the campaign, which he agreed that it was a mistake. But I’ve gotten along with him great and frankly, I could absolutely see something there. You’ve probably seen he’s been very nice in his statements,” Trump said.
Beyond the vice-presidential selection, Trump said bringing the GOP together after a nasty and brutal primary is his priority and in spite of his thin relationships with many figures on Capitol Hill, he believes he can get the leadership to join him.
“I was somewhat surprised that Ted Cruz dropped out last night — that he left. I was somewhat surprised that Kasich dropped out today. I thought to myself, ‘These guys may just hang in,’” Trump said. “They did a great thing for the party because we can now start on all the things that we have to start on. And who would have thought that I’d be here and we’d be waiting for Hillary? In other words, I thought that I may be out there until, hey, June. It could’ve been like that.”
Speeches and rallies will still be part of his routine but building ties by phone and in person is now critical, Trump said. “I don’t have to do seven speeches a day. I could do two or one. That’s the difference.”
Trump said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is an ally in that endeavor after months of occasional tensions between Trump and the RNC.
“He called me,” Trump said of Priebus’s call to Trump late Tuesday. “I was just getting ready to go downstairs and do the speech. I was upstairs in the apartment. My family was gathered around — Don, Ivanka, Eric, who’ve worked very hard. Melania. He called and said, ‘You are the guy. You’re going to be the guy.’”
Trump said congressional Republicans may be wary of him but he will make overtures to them in the coming weeks, asking them to help him fill out the party agenda.
“I’m very much a team player and I look forward to working with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy and everybody. I’m very much a team player and they’ll understand that. I would like total coordination.”
“We’re going to meet with the leadership and we’re going to sit down. I don’t know if we’ll agree on everything but we’ll agree on a lot. We’re going to come up with policy that reflects perhaps both sides. But on trade, I have very strong opinions because I’ve watched our country for too many years lose on trade. So on that I feel very strongly,” Trump said.” I’ve been to these states where they’ve lost manufacturing and it’s sad to see that loss —towns wiped out.”
“I don’t want to take over the party,” Trump insisted, when asked whether he’d seek to overhaul the Republican platform and remake it in his image. “I want to work with the party so we can win the presidency and appoint great Supreme Court justices and have policies that work in every aspect of the word. I absolutely do not want to take over the party. I want to work with the party.”
When asked whether the gravity of the moment, of the possibility of being commander in chief, has sunk in, Trump said he is beginning to get prepared and he is eager to start receiving regular classified intelligence briefings from the U.S. government — a tradition for party nominees.
“We started today looking at what that’ll be and how it’ll work, what I’ll need to do,” Trump said. But for now, it’s mostly about Indiana, about the next interview.
“Don’t forget, it’s been less than 24 hours.”