MANCHESTER, N.H. — Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte rescinded her support for Donald Trump on Saturday following the revelation of lewd and sexually charged comments he made about women and said she’d write in his running mate, Mike Pence, for the presidency. Democrats immediately jumped on the reversal as too little too late.
Ayotte’s decision comes after months of saying she would vote for Trump but not “endorse” him, leading to frequent verbal gymnastics as she disavowed many of his comments but still pledge to vote for him. Just last week, Ayotte said she “misspoke” after calling Trump a role model for children in a televised debate. The 2005 recording that became public Friday night features Trump saying he can kiss, grab and “do anything” with women because he is famous. Trump said Saturday he will not quit the race despite a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers asking him to do so or saying they won’t vote for him.
“I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” Ayotte said in a statement released by her campaign. She has not directly addressed reporters and she cancelled a planned public appearance Saturday morning.
Democrats called Ayotte’s reversal nothing more than a political calculation aimed at saving her seat. She’s running against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in a competitive race that will help determine control of the Senate.
“What her decision today reveals to me is somebody who always considers politics before anything else,” Hassan told reporters. “She has failed the test of courage, character and judgment.”
And Hassan said backing Pence is no better, given his history of fighting to de-fund Planned Parenthood and signing a bill into law as Indiana’s governor that appeared to allow discrimination against gay people.
“What you see today was that she finally made the decision that the politics were so bad for her that she would disavow him, and at the same time endorse somebody who is the biggest apologist for Donald Trump that there is,” Hassan said. “She may have tried to help herself by disavowing Donald Trump but her selection for president again says more about her devotion to party and politics than anything else.”
Hassan has worked to tie Ayotte to Trump at every turn, although it’s done little so far to move the race out of a neck-and-neck battle. But Democrats clearly see a fresh opportunity to pounce on Ayotte a month out from Election Day. A cast of female Democratic senators — Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii and Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan — blasted Trump and Ayotte while campaigning in New Hampshire on Saturday.
Although Ayotte said she’d write in Pence, she stopped short of calling for Trump to quit the race as some of her colleagues have. Sens. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, and Mike Lee, of Utah, both said Trump should abandon his bid and let Pence represent the party instead. Former GOP candidate Carly Fiorina said the same.
Pence said he cannot condone or defend Trump’s comments about women but has not yet commented on calls by Republicans to vote for him or let him become the nominee. He cancelled a planned public event in Wisconsin.
Trump told the Washington Post, which first published the 2005 video, “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu also condemned Trump’s comments but has not rescinded support. Republican Congressman Frank Guinta also did not rescind his support.