WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence sought to soften Trump’s pitch to black voters and thread the needle on their free trade positions in a wide-ranging interview that aired Monday.
Trump told black voters last Friday that their job prospects were dim and urged them to break from Democrats, saying “What the hell do you have to lose?”
But Pence defended his new colleague, telling CNN’s Alisyn Camerota in an interview that aired Monday on “New Day” that “Donald Trump is not an experienced politician who carefully selects his words, and speaks right from his heart, right from his mind.”
Pence has hewed close to Trump on almost every issue since joining the ticket, but he appeared to break new ground Monday, urging caution when dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Vladimir Putin has a history in the KGB. He has a strong authoritarian tendency to him in Russia. I think he’s someone that needs to be watched,” Pence said when asked about Trump’s praise of Putin.
Pence, who staunchly supported free trade agreements as a 12-year veteran of Congress, looked to square joining Trump, who has made opposing free trade a centerpiece of his campaign.
“Donald Trump and I both support free trade, but the time has come, whether it be with NAFTA or all of these multinational agreements, like the TPP, that America take a step back and ask whether or not these trade deals are working for the American worker,” Pence said.
When pressed by Camerota about his previous support for NAFTA, Pence said, “The time has come for us to reopen NAFTA, and renegotiate it with a president who’s proven himself to be one of the most skilled business leaders and negotiators in the world.”
Pence was added to the ticket as a role model of message discipline and for his ability to court Republicans alienated by Trump in the primaries.
The Indiana governor talked about the most pressing issues before the campaign as they hit the home stretch, but he also lightened up at times, mentioning at one point that he “played a little bit of guitar” decades ago to impress his wife when they were dating.
Pence dismissed concerns about the most recent campaign overhaul — with the departure of Paul Manafort and the rise of Kellyanne Conway, Pence’s longtime pollster, and Steve Bannon, who previously ran the conservative news site Breitbart.
“I think there’s always a time, as you approach Labor Day, where campaigns, you know, evolve and change and have additions,” Pence said. “I expect that to continue to be evidence of a campaign that’s on a roll.”
When asked whether he had advised Trump on the shake-up. “The man that is running this campaign is now and always has been Donald Trump.”