Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Vice Presidential Nominee Mike Pence Takes Center Stage At GOP Convention


And I'm Steve Inskeep in Cleveland. We've been walking the aisles of the floor of the Republican convention here in Cleveland.

We're on the red carpet once again. Delegates are getting together, arriving here by bus from their hotels, some of which are many, many miles away.

This was just before the start of the primetime speeches yesterday. Amid the folding chairs of the Florida delegation, we struck up a conversation with two delegates - early arrivals - Al Goldstein (ph) and Dena DeCamp, who looked familiar.

So now, I want to tell you, I was on the floor last evening before the event, and I got pictures of a group of people, roughly here, dancing wildly.

DENA DECAMP: That was us.

INSKEEP: You were in a good mood.

AL GOLDSTEIN: She was the leader over here.

DECAMP: We were having a good time, yeah. We were shaking our booty (laughter).

INSKEEP: They were excited because they felt convention speakers were finally attacking Hillary Clinton. Dena DeCamp says she's the president of the Florida Federation of Republican women. She's also a business owner. She produces embroidery, a business that crashed in the recession years ago, but has now steadily recovered, as has her local economy in Florida. 2016, she says, is her best year yet.

DECAMP: We're not roaring yet. We can be, but we're not there yet. But it's still coming back, so...

INSKEEP: What do you think that means, politically, in an election year, that you have a Democratic president? You also have a Republican governor, but the economy is improving, which tends to be good for the party in power.

DECAMP: The economy's improving because we all are looking to November.

INSKEEP: She does not associate a Democratic president with the strengthening economy. She's focused instead on some of the major preoccupations of this convention - the 2012 attack on Benghazi, Libya, the failure to indict Hillary Clinton over her emails. DeCamp speaks of a government that fails to keep its promises.

Is there a promise, either by the president or, for that matter, by members of Congress, that's been made that you believed in that has not been kept - something specific?

DECAMP: Right off the top of my head and as tired as I am right now, I couldn't. Do you have one, Al?

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, he was going to stop the war.

DECAMP: Oh, yeah. He was going to stop the war.

GOLDSTEIN: And all he did was encourage it.

INSKEEP: Al Goldstein means the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a U.S. Marine, a Vietnam veteran.

GOLDSTEIN: I was accused, in our own party, at my own Lake Ashton subdivision, that I'm an angry old man, you know?

DECAMP: Yes, you are.

GOLDSTEIN: And I said - exactly - I said, yes, I am. And if you're not angry, I'm worried.

INSKEEP: These Florida delegates are hoping Donald Trump recaptures Florida for Republicans this fall. It's a swing state and also an ever more diverse state, which voted twice for President Obama. But the delegates insist the messages and images from this convention will help Donald Trump.

DECAMP: All of these women, they're talking about how he's got - he's not got the women's vote, that he's lost the women's vote because of the way he talks.

INSKEEP: Well, in surveys, he is way behind.

DECAMP: Yes, I know. But let me just tell you - first of all, we think people aren't really telling the truth because they don't want people to know they're voting for Donald Trump. The second thing is - is women want stability, and women want security. And women are looking at that man's children and his family. And women are going, wow, he's doing something right because look at those kids. So if you're not sure about anything else, you can look at somebody's kids and you can go, you know, he's doing something right; he must not be that bad.

INSKEEP: That's Dena DeCamp and Al Goldstein of the Florida delegation at the Republican convention. They had center seats just a few rows away from the lectern, where the speakers began a short time later. And was it ever a dramatic evening. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Conventions are often derided as scripted infomercials with no news or suspense. But the third night of Donald Trump's convention in Cleveland had drama, dissent, chaos and even a technical malfunction. The big question was how Trump's vanquished rivals would behave. Would they endorse him enthusiastically or not? The expectations of the Trump campaign were spelled out early on by conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham.


LAURA INGRAHAM: Donald Trump has pledged to work tirelessly to get our country back on track. I want to say this very plainly. We should all - even all you boys with wounded feelings and bruised egos - and we love you, we love you - but you must honor your pledge to support Donald Trump now.

LIASSON: The crowd went wild. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio more or less complied, but Ted Cruz, who's already planning to run again in 2020, did not. He congratulated Trump on winning the nomination, but that was as far as he would go.


TED CRUZ: We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody.

LIASSON: It was pretty obvious Cruz didn't think Trump met that standard.


CRUZ: If you love our country and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket.

LIASSON: It was a stunning rebuke from a man who's never been too concerned about making friends inside the Republican family. Cruz's supporters thought he was courageous. Trump supporters called him a traitor, and their boos got louder and rowdier. While Cruz spoke, Trump himself came into the hall, with cameras following him from backstage. Later, he tweeted, wow, Ted Cruz got booed off the stage. After that, things got even weirder. The gigantic screen behind the podium was on the fritz. It pixilated, then went completely black. The usual convention mood was restored a bit when Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, took the stage. Pence was calm, measured, and he was even funny, a welcome note in a convention that's had little humor, as Pence explained how he came to be chosen by Trump.


MIKE PENCE: He's a man known for a large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma. And so I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket.

LIASSON: Pence described himself with his signature line - a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order. And he delivered the message of the Trump campaign - change versus more of the same.


PENCE: People in both parties are restless for change, ready to break free of old patterns in Washington. And Democrats are about to anoint someone who represents everything this country is tired of. You know, Hillary Clinton wants a better title, and I would, too, if I was already America's secretary of the status quo.

LIASSON: Although the crowd chanted, lock her up, lock her up - the phrase that's become the mantra of this convention - Pence kept his attacks on Clinton well within what used to be considered acceptable civil discourse. And he made the case for Trump as a no-nonsense conservative.


PENCE: Donald Trump gets it. He's the genuine article. He's a doer in a game usually reserved for talkers. And when Donald Trump does his talking, he - he doesn't tiptoe around the thousand new rules of political correctness.


PENCE: He's his own man - distinctly American. And where else would an independent spirit like his find a following than in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

LIASSON: Every night of the Republican convention has had an out-of-control moment. That may be part of Trump's own disruptive political style. Tomorrow night, he takes over the stage all by himself. And right now, there's no telling what might happen.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson here in Cleveland, Ohio. NPR's Scott Detrow is also covering this convention. He's in our studios. Scott, good morning.


INSKEEP: Glad you've been with us all week. So Mara referred to out-of-control moments. Mike Pence was in control. What's the essence of the case he was making last night?

DETROW: Well, first of all, this was a very pro-Donald Trump speech. And that's different than what a lot of other high-profile Republican speakers have been giving this week. Some of them haven't even mentioned Trump's name at all. But the basic argument, it's something that the Clinton campaign should be familiar with because, as Mara put it in her piece, it's the essence of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, change versus more of the same.


PENCE: You know, the choice couldn't be more clear. Americans can elect someone who literally personifies the failed establishment in Washington, D.C., or we can choose a leader who will fight every day to make America great again.


PENCE: It's change versus status quo. And my fellow Republicans, when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America, the change will be huge.

INSKEEP: This is a reminder - Democrats have a lot of advantages this year if you look at the electoral map, where the electoral votes are, a lot of other things, but Republicans can say we can change the party in the White House.

DETROW: That's right, and that - and that was the heart of Mike Pence's speech. He - he took that argument to Hillary Clinton in a much more issues-focused way, not the personal attacks we've been - we've been seeing so far this week.

INSKEEP: A more typical convention speech, although this has not at all been a typical convention.

DETROW: Not at all. We had a plagiarism flare up that lasted several days. We had this dramatic primetime infighting. But, you know, as Donald Trump tweeted yesterday, he thinks all press is good press. The problem is, some of that press is undoubtedly going to take away from what Mike Pence had to say.

INSKEEP: Yeah, well, let me ask about something that Pence said. He said at one point in the speech, we at last have a unified party behind Donald Trump. Now, this is a very good speech by my home state governor, Mike Pence, but they don't have a unified party. They just don't.

DETROW: They don't, and Ted Cruz's speech made that clear. Everybody was on the same page when he was talking about big, conservative principles. But elections are about those principles. They're also about the candidate. And when it was clear that Ted Cruz was kind of slighting Donald Trump. Not endorsing him. Saying things that - that anti-Trump forces have been saying all week, the room turned on him. You know, Republican leaders may not all be there with Donald Trump, but a lot of Republican voters are, and they feel very passionately about him.

INSKEEP: OK, Scott, thanks very much. We'll continue hearing you throughout the morning as we continue covering the Republican National Convention from Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Scott Detrow
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.