Dashing hints that he might quit the ticket and join those Republicans abandoning Donald Trump, GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence reverted to supportive running mate mode Monday as he told a Charlotte crowd that Trump was a fighter who “literally embodies the spirit of America.”
In his campaign’s first rally since the disclosure of a damaging video showing Trump speaking about women in vulgar sexual terms, Pence acknowledged “it’s been an interesting few days.” But he said Trump had shown contrition during Sunday night’s debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“It takes a big man to know when he’s wrong. And to admit it. And (to have) the humility to apologize,” said Pence, speaking in front of an audience of nearly 400 at Centerstage in NoDa. “And Donald Trump, last night, showed that he’s a big man.”
Pence’s visit to Charlotte came as other prominent Republicans, including several congressional candidates in tough re-election battles, pulled back support from Trump or urged him to withdraw following the release of the 2005 tape Friday.
On Monday, the Washington Post reported U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said he would no longer campaign with or defend Trump and freed other House Republicans to do the same. Other Republican leaders who have pulled support of Trump include Ariz. Sen. John McCain and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, both in reelection races.
Ayotte said she planned to write in Pence’s name on Nov. 8 rather than vote for Trump, and other GOP leaders floated scenarios where Pence would resign from the ticket or, if Trump could be removed, Pence would take over as the party’s presidential candidate.
A day after the news about the tape broke, Pence issued a critical statement – unprecedented for a running mate – that said “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.” Pence also refused to fill in for Trump – and defend him – at a Saturday rally in Wisconsin hosted by Ryan, who had dis-invited Trump.
On Monday in Charlotte, Pence, who is governor of Indiana, turned to his Christianity to explain why Trump should be given a second chance.
“My faith informs me we’re to hold up a Godly standard,” he said. “But we all fall short of the glory of God. There’s no one righteous, other than The One.”
“I don’t condone what was said,” added Pence. “But the other part of my faith is grace...We’re called to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.”
Earlier Monday, during an appearance on Fox News and MSNBC, Pence also tried to stamp out a budding controversy that had him and Trump disagreeing on whether to use U.S. military force in Syria.
At the Sunday night debate, co-moderator Martha Raddatz told Trump that Pence had said in last week’s vice presidential debate that the United States should consider military force to answer Russian provocation in Syria and hit Syrian military targets.
That prompted Trump to say about Pence, “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”
Pence said on the Monday morning telecasts that Raddatz had “mischaracterized” his answer, which he said related to creating safe zones in Syria and possibly using military force to secure those zones and allow 100,000 people trapped in Aleppo, a Syrian city under bombardment, to escape.
“Last night, Martha conflated those into a larger question about Russian provocation, Russian aggression,” Pence said on Fox News. “And so I didn’t begrudge (Trump) at all saying we didn’t discuss it. He disagreed with that.”
We have all done and said stupid and ignorant things. Period. I don’t appreciate what he said. But the issues are what are on my mind.
Shelley Greenberg, Trump supporter, on her reaction to Trump’s vulgar remarks.
At his rally in Charlotte, Pence ended by taking questions from audience members, some of whom held signs reading “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump.”
One woman asked Pence how he would heal the racial divisions in the U.S. following police shootings of black men. Protests that turned violent at times rocked Charlotte last month after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, 43.
Pence said that the public deserves an “immediate and transparent review” of such shootings, but also said people need to respect the police.
“Enough of those who would seize on these tragic moments to divide us and demean people who serve in law enforcement,” said Pence.
Pence sought to shift the focus of the race back to Clinton, drawing jeers from the crowd – including a shout of “Liar!” – whenever she was mentioned.
He went down the items on the conservative Republican agenda, saying he and Trump would build up the military, cut taxes, repeal regulations, appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court and get rid of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Pence also linked Clinton to President Barack Obama and said the foreign policy from her time as secretary of state had weakened the U.S. position in the world and led to more turmoil in the Middle East.
“History teaches us that weakness arouses evil,” said Pence. “The weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama...are all a testament to this truth of history.”
He also promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade deals that Trump says hurt American workers.
“Trade means jobs, but it’s first going to mean American jobs,” said Pence. Open borders and open trade, which he said Clinton favored, received loud “boos” from the crowd.
45.8 percentHillary Clinton’s North Carolina support
43.2 percentDonald Trump’s North Carolina support
Several women at the rally said they weren’t bothered by the tape of Trump, in which he bragged to then-Access Hollywood host Billy Bush on a hot mic about allegedly kissing women and grabbing them by the genitals. Shelley Greenberg, 50, said Trump’s stances on the issues in the race are more important to her.
“We have all done and said stupid and ignorant things. Period. I don’t appreciate what he said. But the issues are what are on my mind,” said Greenberg, a Charlotte resident who works in health care. She also said Trump won the debate: “Trump went into Armageddon debate and he came out a solid winner. He exposed Hillary and I call that leadership.”
Before Pence arrived, military veteran Ron Howard, now a business executive in Statesville, saluted the crowd for standing by Trump while “the rest of the Republican establishment are running away from the sound of gunfire.”
You have nominated a man for president who never quits...He never backs down.
Mike Pence on Donald Trump
N.C. Republican Chairman Robin Hayes, who was the MC at the Pence rally, told the Observer before the event that Trump’s sexist comments on the tape were “inexcusable” and “absolutely horrible in taste.”
But Hayes said Trump was contrite enough on the debate stage to satisfy him. And he said that the state Republican Party will “absolutely” still include Trump in get-out- the-vote efforts rather than just focus on down-ballot races such as governor and U.S. senator.
Pence’s visit comes as Charlotte remains in the political spotlight. North Carolina is a crucial swing state, and though Clinton holds a slight edge in polling averages, the state remains within polls’ margins of error.
▪ Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine will campaign Wednesday at Davidson College. Kaine is expected to urge voters to take advantage of early voting, which starts Oct. 20.
▪ Trump will return to Charlotte for a Friday night rally at PNC Music Pavilion. The event will start at 7 p.m., with gates opening at 4 p.m.
▪ Outside of the Charlotte area, President Barack Obama will campaign for Clinton on Tuesday in Greensboro.
N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, spoke a few hours before Pence’s visit Monday, ripping Trump for his response to the controversial video.
“We saw how Trump yet again refused to apologize for his disgusting and vile way that he talks about women despite being condemned by dozens of members of his own party,” he said.
Observer staff writer Ronnie Glassberg contributed.