Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who was among the first U.S. senators to disavow Donald Trump last weekend and call for him to step aside as the GOP presidential nominee, said in a televised debate Friday night that he might still vote for Trump.
Asked who he’ll vote for, Crapo said, “I haven’t decided yet.”
He said, “I can tell you this: I cannot and will not vote for Hillary Clinton,” and sharply criticized Clinton, suggesting that if she is elected, “the Constitution itself” could hang in the balance.
Meanwhile, his Democratic challenger, Jerry Sturgill, said he’ll back Clinton “because she is the better alternative to Donald Trump,” but said, “It’s sad that both candidates are flawed and they are so unpopular. … We the people are angry.”
After Crapo disavowed Trump, one county GOP central committee, in Idaho County, said it was disavowing Crapo as a result. County GOP Chairman Jon Menough, in a letter sent both to Crapo and to Idaho news media, wrote, “With your announcement that you would no longer support Mr. Trump, in our opinion, you have relinquished your right to be associated with the party we represent. Effective immediately, the Idaho County Republican Central Committee will provide neither physical nor financial support to your effort to be re-elected. We will not distribute signs or other campaign literature on your behalf. Those of us who have put signs up for you, will remove those signs. You have lost our respect as a Republican and feel you are no longer worthy of the title of ‘Republican’ that we proudly wear."
That county party central committee is the same one that used party funds two years ago to back a primary challenger to sitting GOP Gov. Butch Otter.
Pressed as to whether he’d consider another candidate – conservative Evan McMullin, who’s been making a strong pitch to Utah Mormons who are disillusioned with Trump, was speaking in Idaho Falls, Crapo’s hometown, that very evening, and has a second Idaho appearance planned Saturday in Rexburg – Crapo said, “I haven’t made a decision yet. And frankly I believe the country is conflicted over this, because we have choices that are frankly disappointing to the country. And I’m facing that kind of decision myself.”
Then he bashed Clinton again, saying, “There are in my opinion not only issues relating to her honesty and the way she has conducted the Clinton Foundation and so forth, but what will happen in the governing of this nation if we elect her.”
On Saturday, Crapo had said in a statement, “I have reached the decision that I can no longer endorse Donald Trump,” after the release of 2005 video in which Trump boasted about groping and sexually assaulting women. “Trump’s most recent excuse of ‘locker room talk’ is completely unacceptable and is inconsistent with protecting women from abusive, disparaging treatment,” Crapo said then. “I urge Donald Trump to step aside and allow the Republican Party to put forward a conservative candidate like Mike Pence who can defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Both Trump and Sturgill are members of the Mormon Church, as are 27 percent of Idaho residents.
In the two candidates’ half-hour matchup, moderated by “Idaho Reports” co-host Melissa Davlin and broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television, Sturgill hit Crapo hard over his hefty campaign contributions from financial services interests while serving as a high-ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, a panel he could chair next year if Republicans hold their majority in the Senate.
“We have people in government who’ve allowed Washington, D.C. to influence their decisions, we’ve allowed big money to flow into our government that’s caused what I believe is conflicted and compromised politicians,” Sturgill said, telling Crapo, “With all due respect, I think it’s changed you.”
Sturgill has been critical not only of Crapo’s fundraising but also his 2013 DUI conviction; Idahoans long have known Crapo as a teetotaling, faithful member of the LDS Church.
Crapo responded, “I believe my advocacy for the people of Idaho has remained constant and consistent.”
Directly addressing his arrest and conviction for drunken driving, Crapo said, “It was a terrible decision and that time of my life was literally the worst part of my service in the United States Senate. I have apologized, I have fulfilled my complete obligations to the law, and I have worked hard to regain the trust of the people of Idaho.”
A day earlier, the Idaho Statesman published an article in which Crapo said he hasn’t taken a drink since that incident.
On Friday night, he averred that he hasn’t changed his positions during his decades of service in the Senate and House; he’s seeking a fourth Senate term. “My conservative record has stayed solid,” Crapo said. And he noted that he’s also reached across the aisle to work on issues, from reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to the Owyhee wilderness to budget balancing. “I do believe that I’ve worked to break that gridlock. … I have a very good record of working to find solutions,” he said.
Sturgill said when he first announced his candidacy last April, “People told me it would be impossible to win,” because Crapo already had nearly $5 million amassed in his campaign warchest. “That just doesn’t seem right, that regular people cannot engage in government, serve in government,” because incumbents like Crapo “have money to head off the opposition,” he said.
You can watch the full half-hour matchup between Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Democratic challenger Jerry Sturgill, moderated by Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin, online here at the Idaho Public Television website.