On the Political Front: Ayotte Tries to Walk Fine Line in Backing Trump

May 9, 2016

On the Political Front is our weekly check-in with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. 

It's now been almost a week since Donald Trump became the all-but-certain nominee of the Republican party, and the ripple effects in New Hampshire have been interesting.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Let’s start with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is, as she puts it, supporting but not endorsing Trump. That phrasing has drawn a lot of attention – and some ridicule.

What do you make of it?

Well, on its face it is almost oxymoronic; how is saying you are going to vote for someone not an endorsement? But it’s indicative of the line some Republicans, particularly those facing tight re-elections clearly feel they need to walk regarding Trump; they don’t want to seem hostile but they don’t want to embrace him, either. Perhaps this changes over time.

If you want to give Ayotte’s comments the most positive gloss, you can say the position is totally consistent with what she’s said for months, that she plans to support the nominee of her party. But the equivocation - I’ll support him but I’ll stop short of telling other people to, which is what I’ve been told is how Ayotte’s statement was intended to be understood - does, in a way, prompt fresh questions about her stance on filling the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. With all other Republicans out of the race, Ayotte’s stance is we must wait for the people to weigh in. I plan to vote for Trump, but won’t urge others to, but hope he gets to select the next Supreme Court justice? It’s kind of a tangle.

A different Trump-induced tangle does seem to have straightened itself out, though: Delegate duties for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  Yes. On Friday, Republican convention delegates re-voted on assignments. The initial vote, taken by email, was on a slate proposed by state GOP leaders. No one claimed credit for the idea, but the Trump campaign quickly blamed N.H. GOP Chair Jennifer Horn. And their beef was basically our guy won the New Hampshire primary by 30 points and yet we get zero representation on committees in Cleveland.

Their protests led to the re-vote, and the Trump folks did ultimately got their way. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, for instance, will now lead the delegation. Originally that was to be Horn’s job. In fact, the only candidates proposed under the initial slate to keep prominent posts are GOP committeeman and woman Steve Duprey and Julianna Bergeron. Both will be on the rules committee, where there is expected to be a flare up over early states, and whether Iowa New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada should go first.

Is it fair to see this as fairly ho-hum at this point, given that talk of a contested convention is pretty much over?

Well, it’s true that committee duties, particularly that of the rules committee, would have been more consequential under a brokered convention. But this fight did bring a new round of resignation calls for Jennifer Horn from folks in the Trump camp, which aren’t expected to be heeded. But at a minimum the rancor has Democrats, who still have some of their own healing to do, happy.

Bernie Sanders did begin laying off hundreds of campaign workers last week, his chance of winning the Democratic nomination is exceedingly remote, but he continued to say he’ll stay in race until the Democratic convention.

And rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear from a Sanders supporter who believes Sanders isn’t getting a fair shake. Most of the time, the complaint is that the media isn’t giving Sanders his due and is spending too much time on Trump. There is also a good deal of frustration about the superdelegate process that some Sanders supporters argue has stacked the deck for Hillary Clinton. If or how that may affect Democrats in New Hampshire come fall is hard to know right now.

As if it’s not obvious, Democrats, or at least the Democratic party’s unity message is, for now, at least very much focused on promoting the idea that the Republican party is the party of Donald Trump. And if Republicans express fealty to Trump, they criticize them for that, and if they don’t, well they can criticize them – and Trump -- for that, too. November remains a very long way off, but expect this theme to endure.