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Trump Appears To Break With Pence Over Syria Policy


Donald Trump has made life difficult for many prominent Republicans, and that extends to his own running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Their relationship has had some strange moments, especially recently. Trump contradicted Pence over Syria policy in Sunday's debate. And despite rumors to the contrary, Pence is standing by Trump after a damaging videotape leak that has caused other prominent Republicans to flee.

NPR's Sarah McCammon has been digging into what is actually happening behind the scenes between these two members of the GOP ticket. She joins us between campaign stops from the Charlotte Airport. Hi, Sarah.


SHAPIRO: Let's start with the fallout from that video release. What did Mike Pence do in response?

MCCAMMON: So over the weekend after all this came out, he put out a statement completely denouncing what Trump had said. He said, we pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation. So reading between the lines, it really seemed like Pence was putting down a marker and saying he needed to see how Trump handled himself in Sunday's debate.

Ultimately, though, Pence came out after the presidential debate, tweeted that he was proud to stand with Trump, and that's what he's been saying publicly this week as well. He's been campaigning a lot for Trump.

SHAPIRO: What have you learned about what's actually going on behind the scenes between these two?

MCCAMMON: So the sense coming from the campaign over the weekend was that this was a difficult and - frankly an emotional time for many of those around Pence. Campaign sources, though, insist that Pence never considered leaving the ticket.

He did cancel a campaign visit to Wisconsin I'm told in an effort to avoid being a distraction, avoid a media frenzy. But that same day - that was on Saturday - he did fly across the country to a private fundraiser on behalf of Trump, raised about half a million dollars I'm told. So it's not like he went and hunkered down at home in Indiana.

And then last night at a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump praised Pence, called him loyal, indicated that he'd given him the OK to put out that critical statement over the weekend. So all of that fits with my understanding. What we've kind of seen of Trump is that he gives Pence a lot of space and leeway to be Mike Pence. For instance, Pence released his tax returns, something Trump has not done despite a lot of pressure. But Pence is an evangelical. He's known for having a much more straight-laced and a gentler persona than Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: There was this moment we mentioned during the presidential debate where Trump contradicted Pence on Syria policy. Pence seemed to favor a more aggressive position than Trump. Let's listen to what Trump said.


DONALD TRUMP: He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.

MARTHA RADDATZ: You disagree with your running mate.

TRUMP: I think we have to knock out ISIS.

SHAPIRO: That surprised a lot of people. What can you tell us about how that happened?

MCCAMMON: We should point out, Ari, that in the presidential debate on Sunday, the moderator, Martha Raddatz, read Trump Pence's statement from the VP debate, and Trump's response to that was that they hadn't talked, and that was not his position. So it's not entirely clear what happened here.

It's possible they just hadn't discussed this policy area in depth. The campaign says they have it straight now. But I think that a lot of people are wondering, you know, if this was a damaging moment for their relationship. But you know, Mike Pence is marching forward even with everything else going on, so it's hard to see how this is a problem for Trump and Pence.

SHAPIRO: So Sarah, what's the relationship like between these two guys? How often do they talk? How did they get along with each other?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, they're very different people in terms of style, which is why a lot of people thought Pence would not be Trump's first choice. But I'm told that they genuinely like each other. They talk every day, sometimes multiple times a day. They get together and campaign every week or two together. And you know, the thing about Mike Pence is that he is an evangelical Christian. I'm told he believes in grace and forgiveness, and he's willing to forgive Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon joining us from the Charlotte airport. Back to the campaign trail with you. Thanks a lot.

MCCAMMON: All right, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.