It's official – Donald Trump has chosen Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence may be lesser known than the other reported finalists, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but he was a smart choice.
A key argument against Trump from the party establishment was that they cannot be sure Trump will make conservative-friendly choices as president. But Pence is a very conservative-friendly option in what's been the most important choice Trump has made since becoming the presumptive nominee.
Pence's conservative background, experience as a governor of a solid red state, and his years in Congress all make some kind of pure conservative revolt against Trump at the convention that much harder to pull off. That was validated late Thursday when a committee at the GOP convention voted overwhelmingly against unbinding the delegates, which would have allowed them to vote for any candidate they wanted to.
He won the early favor of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said on Thursday before the announcement that Pence would be a "good movement conservative."
"I can think of no better choice for our vice-presidential candidate," Ryan said. " We need someone who is steady and secure in his principles, someone who can cut through the noise and make a compelling case for conservatism. Mike Pence is that man."
On CNBC's "Squawk Box" Friday, former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison went further, calling Pence a "perfect choice."
And despite all the talk about Republican ideals, the biggest reason Trump has been opposed by so many established Republicans is because so many of them thought he could not win. Many still don't believe it, but there are fewer skeptics now that Trump is closing in on Hillary Clinton in a lot of polls including the latest CBS/New York Times polls, which shows them tied.
With the intramural Republican wars all but completely over, Pence provides Trump with some unique advantages in the general election. For one thing, Pence has publicly opposed Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country. Last December, Pence tweeted, "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."
Former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley even facetiously retweeted Pence's tweet on Friday, likely in an attempt to embarrass Trump and Pence. But, it actually served to remind everyone how Trump was willing to choose a less toxic candidate than himself for the ticket.
And, while some conservatives are angry with Pence for backing down in his battle last year over Indiana's "religious freedom" law, which would've allowed businesses to refuse to serve customers who were gay, his ability to compromise with big business without completely ditching his personal religious beliefs make Pence look a lot more reasonable to most voters outside the hard conservative base.
So where does the Trump-Pence ticket go from here?
Starting with the convention, all the Trump campaign needs to do is avoid the crazy and scary moments Trump himself has been responsible for over the past year. Keeping former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin away from the speaking schedule was one good move in that direction, and the inclusion of a lot of non-politicians like billionaire Peter Thiel was another. Pence will speak as well, of course.
Outside of the convention, Trump publicizing the names of more solid and respected people to be in his proposed cabinet is also more important than any policy statements or promises. Governor Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich may have come close to getting the VP nod, but that doesn't mean they should definitely be given promises of cabinet posts as some kind of consolation prize. The positive response Trump is getting for choosing Pence from most conservatives and just about all of the establishment Republican Party will serve as positive reinforcement and Trump will seek to repeat that with similar choices for the cabinet.
The most important job for Trump and Pence is to make sure their new partnership does not impede the successful aspects of Trump's campaign brand. Love him or hate him, (is there any other choice?), Trump commands much more attention than any candidate in this election. Even Hillary Clinton's most attention-grabbing comments are predictably about Trump. Trump achieves that by being at least entertaining and appearing emotionally authentic.
Pence could potentially water down that image down if he plays a traditionally restrained role on the campaign trail. Less toxic is good, boring isn't good. So for all the talk about how it would be good for Pence to help Trump "tone it down," the opposite is true.
Pence's greatest value will be working behind the scenes on conservative turnout while letting Trump continue being Trump.