Donald Trump repeatedly discussed with advisers the idea of naming his daughter Ivanka as his running mate in 2016 before settling for Mike Pence, according to a former Trump campaign aide who became a star witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Rick Gates, who in the summer of 2016 was Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, describes in a new book how Trump — wary of the “Never Trump” sentiment in the Republican party and still stinging from his competitors’ attacks during the GOP primary — deliberated for about a month on a vice presidential candidate he could trust completely.
“During a VP discussion that included Jared and the other kids all assembled in one room, Trump said, ‘I think it should be Ivanka. What about Ivanka as my VP?’ There was silence,” Gates writes in “Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed and America Lost,” referring to Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner.
“All heads turned toward her, and she just looked surprised. We all knew Trump well enough to keep our mouths shut and not laugh,” Gates writes, according to a copy of the book obtained by Bloomberg News. “He went on: ‘She’s bright, she’s smart, she’s beautiful, and the people would love her!”’
Gates writes that he thought at the time, “He’s not joking.” Spokespeople for the White House and for Ivanka Trump, who with her husband became senior advisers to the president after he took office, declined to comment.
The book is set to be released by Post Hill Press on Oct. 13, three weeks before Trump stands for re-election. Pence, the former Indiana governor, has become one of Trump’s most loyal lieutenants, often criticized by Democrats for public praise of the president that veers toward the obsequious. He’ll debate California Senator Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, on prime-time television on Oct. 7.
Gates was indicted in October 2017 by prosecutors investigating Russian interference in the election and ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. He became a cooperating witness and was sentenced in December 2019 to three years’ probation and 45 days of intermittent confinement for tax and lobbying crimes committed with Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
The former aide’s testimony helped send Manafort to prison and also to convict Trump ally Roger Stone. The president commuted Stone’s sentence in July, shortly before he was set to report to prison.
Gates, who served out his time in home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic, writes that he chafed for two years under a judge-mandated gag order, and expresses outrage over the Mueller probe. But the bulk of the book is about his recollections of working on Trump’s insurgent campaign, the president’s inauguration, and the pro-Trump group America First Policies.
Gates says Trump, who distrusted politicians and valued loyalty above all other traits, repeatedly placed his relatives in key campaign positions. He blindsided Steve Bannon by making him share control over the campaign budget with Trump family members, including son Eric Trump. Bannon was hired as the campaign’s chief executive officer in August 2016.
As he contemplated running mates in 2016, Gates writes, Trump was open to the possibility of adding former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or then-Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee to the ticket. Both took themselves out of consideration, Gates writes.
Another potential VP choice, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, “drew harsh comparisons to Sarah Palin” because of her inexperience, Gates writes. And Trump derided another possibility, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, as “Mr. Magoo,” Gates says. Sessions went on to be Trump’s first attorney general.
Manafort then “subtly pushed once more for someone who could bring balance to the ticket, like Pence,” Gates writes.
“But Trump said, ‘Look, I don’t like any of these people,’” Gates writes. “Once again, he said, ‘I think it should be Ivanka.’”
Trump continued to bring up the idea over the next few weeks, which signaled to his advisers “just how serious he was about putting his politically inexperienced daughter just a heartbeat from the presidency,” Gates writes.
Manafort twice tested voters’ opinions of Ivanka Trump by placing her name next to a dozen potential vice presidential candidates in internal campaign polls, Gates writes. “She didn’t poll tremendously high, but higher than we expected, and that only added to the seriousness of her consideration.”
In early July 2016, according to Gates, “Trump still seemed cool to Pence,” and “the Ivanka idea started to catch some momentum. People on the team argued that Ivanka brought a balance to her father. ‘She’s more moderate.’ ‘She could help with independents!’”
But Ivanka Trump pulled herself out of the running, Gates writes. “She went to her father and said, ‘No, Dad. It’s not a good idea.’ And he capitulated.”
Exhausted Short List
The book says Ivanka Trump and Kushner were fond of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a running mate.
“But Trump had already told us, privately, that he thought ‘there was something wrong and off’ with Newt,” Gates writes. “He would constantly hit Trump with a barrage of policy ideas, and Trump did not have the appetite or patience to deal with him.”
Trump agreed with advisers that the fallout from Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal “and Christie’s own media-hungry presidential ambitions” ruled him out for the job, Gates writes.
And so there was almost no one left on the vice presidential short list when Trump flew to Indiana on July 12, the book says.
Trump and Pence had a “cordial” meeting, but Trump wasn’t sold, Gates writes. Trump had early called Pence “a loser” because he’d endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries and was struggling in his own gubernatorial re-election contest, Gates writes.
Then Gates got a phone call from campaign aide John McEntee, who said there was a mechanical issue with Trump’s plane. Stranded overnight in Indiana, Trump had breakfast with Pence, and was impressed with the governor’s assertive side when he verbally ripped into Hillary Clinton, Gates writes.
Trump tweeted on July 15 that Pence was his choice.
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