WASHINGTON – As Donald Trump’s top campaign aides began a discussion in June 2016 about who the presumptive Republican presidential nominee should select as his running mate, the candidate piped up with an idea.
“I think it should be Ivanka. What about Ivanka as my VP?” Trump asked the assembled group, according to a new book by his former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates set to be published Oct. 13.
Trump added: “She’s bright, she’s smart, she’s beautiful, and the people would love her!”
In Gates’s telling, Trump’s suggestion of naming to the ticket his then-34-year-old daughter – a fashion and real estate executive who had never held elected office – was no passing fancy.
Instead, he brought up the idea repeatedly over the following weeks, trying to sell his campaign staff on the idea, insisting she would be embraced by the Republican base, Gates writes.
Trump was so taken with the concept of his eldest daughter as his vice president – and so cool to other options, including his eventual selection, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – that his team polled the idea twice, according to Gates.
It was Ivanka Trump who finally ended the conversation, Gates writes, going to her father to tell him it wasn’t a good idea. Trump eventually came around and selected Pence, after the governor won him over by delivering a “vicious and extended monologue” about Bill and Hillary Clinton at a get-to-know-you breakfast later that summer, according to Gates’s account.
“This is not true and there was never any such poll,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said Monday.
In response, Gates said in a statement, “I have the greatest respect for Mr. Murtaugh and the tremendous job he has with the 2020 Trump campaign. In 2016 only a few senior campaign staff were aware of the full list of potential candidates and the actions we took to vet them.”
In an interview last week, Gates said he is not certain Trump would actually have gone through with making his daughter his running mate.
But he said he included the anecdote in his new book, first reported by Bloomberg, as a prime example of the kind of unconventional thinking he believes made Trump an appealing candidate.
While others might see the episode as a distasteful symbol of Trump’s nepotism, Gates said it shows Trump’s commitment to family, loyalty and ensuring those around him support his agenda and not their own – “the values and assets that Trump cared most about,” he said.
The account in Gates’s book – “Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost” – is one of several that he cites in praise of his former boss as he describes working on the campaign and ultimately becoming ensnared in the special counsel investigation that consumed much of Trump’s presidency. Unlike a number of other memoirs by former Trump staffers, Gates’s book serves not as a tell-all, but rather a defense of the president and how he and others helped elect him.
In an interview, Gates said he believes Trump has been a good president – “the most decisive president we’ve had probably since Eisenhower” – and says he supports his reelection.
After working on the 2016 campaign and helping organize the inauguration, Gates pleaded guilty in February 2018 to conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal investigators in relation to lobbying work he and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had done in Ukraine before joining Trump’s team.
After entering his plea, he became one of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s most important cooperating witnesses, spending hundreds of hours in interviews for multiple investigations and testifying at trial against both his longtime former boss, Manafort, and former Trump confidante Roger Stone.
He was sentenced to spend 45 days in prison, along with three years probation, but allowed to serve only on weekends. His prison term was suspended in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like Trump, Gates argues the Mueller investigation was illegitimate and unfair, saying overzealous prosecutors targeted lower-level aides like him in a misguided effort to flip them against a president about whom they had no damaging information to share.
Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of Stone after a jury found him guilty of lying to Congress and obstructing justice.
Gates said he would “absolutely” take a pardon if Trump offered him one.
“I mean, who wouldn’t?” he said in an interview, adding: “We have not made any overture. . . . But if I were looking at this objectively, I would say that this started with political intention and that people were caught up in the inquiry in ways that they wouldn’t have been if the inquiry had been done more properly.”
He said he laments that “lives were damaged” in the course of the inquiry. “One of the things I think people lost focus on, again, on both sides is that we’re all human beings. It got so politically toxic, it’s almost as if both sides were not looking at the others involved as human beings, but instead just as political pawns that they could leverage.”
In the interview, Gates generally defended the work of Manafort, his longtime colleague, whose openness to Russian overtures was described in a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report as a risk to U.S. national security.
“I never heard any issues raised about him being a grave security concern,” Gates said. “It strikes me as very politically motivated and politically targeted.”
While the Trump who emerges from Gates’s book has a short temper and a shorter attention span, Gates largely argues such traits are positives – attributes of an unorthodox politician, he says.
He writes that Trump wished to ban politicians from speaking at his 2016 convention, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whom he had vanquished for the GOP nomination. Instead, he proposed inviting celebrities such as tennis star Serena Williams, basketball legend LeBron James and boxing promoter Don King to speak.
And he notes in his book another moment in the campaign that he believes resonated with some voters, even if it horrified the political class: the answer Trump gave in the final debate of 2016 when asked if he would accept the election results.
“I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. He has echoed that response in similar statements this year, refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses in November.
At the time, Gates suggests the campaign did not dwell on whether the answer was undemocratic or problematic, but on their view that it was effective.
While the Washington establishment thought Trump’s answer was terrible, Gates writes, the campaign viewed it differently: as a statement that would appeal to voters who appreciated “Trump’s breaking with protocol, his ‘fearlessness’ when it came to challenging the status quo.”
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The Washington Post’s John Wagner contributed to this report.