Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump passed one of his most important tests of the second presidential debate Monday by getting full-throated support from running mate Mike Pence, who shut down talk of quitting the ticket despite his disapproval of Trump’s remarks about women.
“Donald Trump stepped up,” Pence said on Fox News. “He showed humility. He showed strength. He expressed genuine contrition for the words that he had used on the video,” unearthed Friday, that showed Trump in 2005 discussing women in graphic terms.
Pence’s reassurance of the ticket’s unity came after a weekend when some senior party members and donors actively stoked the idea of pushing aside Trump for Pence because of Trump’s remarks. That scenario is nearly impossible coming just one month before Election Day — barring Trump quitting on his own.
Pence said he was “proud” of his running mate and, after an avalanche of Republican lawmakers’ defections, said he hoped others believe in “redemption” and “second chances” as much as he does.
Republican leaders who withdrew their support for Trump included 2008 nominee John McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona. Many called for Pence, the governor of Indiana, to replace Trump at the top of the ticket, No. 3 Senate Republican John Thune.
“I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them,” said Pence, a born-again Christian who’s served as a bridge between Trump and the Republican establishment, in a statement Saturday amid the party’s crisis.
Indicating he’d be watching Trump’s Sunday debate performance closely, Pence said in the statement, “I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people. 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 tomorrow night.”
Pence’s thumps-up alone doesn’t mean Trump has stopped the crisis in his campaign as many other Republicans have yet to weigh in. Trump’s aides have pledged to continue pushing his critique of former President Bill Clinton’s treatment of women, a topic most senior party leaders see as toxic – and likely opening the door for Hillary Clinton to become president and endangering Republican seats in Congress.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned Trump’s comments but haven’t revoked their endorsements.
Trump has mixed contrition and counterattacks, taking to to blast “self-righteous hypocrites” and reiterating in the debate that he apologizes for his comments. He called them “locker-room talk” and said he wasn’t proud of it. He denied that he’d sexually assaulted women – a denial Pence said he accepted – and sought to turn claims of mistreating women back on Bill Clinton and on the Democratic nominee.
In another split on the Republican ticket, Trump in the debate said he didn’t share Pence’s view that Russian provocations in Syria should “be met with American strength.”
“He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree,” Trump said.
Pence accused Martha Raddatz, one of the moderators of Sunday’s debate, of having “mischaracterized” his own comments on Russia and Syria in the Oct. 4 vice-presidential debate, saying he was addressing the Aleppo humanitarian crisis, not the broader conflict in Syria.
“I didn’t begrudge him at all,” Pence said of Trump’s remark.
Pence was scheduled to campaign in North Carolina on Monday as Trump stumps in Pennsylvania. They trail the Democratic ticket by an average of 4.5 percentage points in national polls that also include third-party candidates, survey aggregator RealClearPolitics said.