One of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans is engaged in an increasingly difficult rhetorical battle to back Donald Trump while distancing herself from his rhetoric and policies.
“I’m going to be voting for him but I do have significant disagreements with him, which I’ve been very clear on, so I won’t be endorsing him, “ Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told CNN’s Manu Raju in an interview published Tuesday.
Asked by Raju to define the difference between a vote and an endorsement, Ayotte insisted that the distance between the two was significant.
“There’s actually a big distinction,” Ayotte said. “Because everyone gets a vote—I do too–but an endorsement is one where I’m out campaigning with someone. And so while he has my vote he doesn’t have my endorsement, and I’m going to continue to really focus on my race.”
The New Hampshire senator has maintained this stance since she first announced that she would support Trump when he emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee in May. Her line has been more difficult to hold as she has spoken out against Trump’s “offensive” attacks on the Mexican heritage of a federal judge and on the parents of a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq.
These critiques have not gone unnoticed by Trump. He called her “weak” and accused her of giving him “zero support” in an August interview before reluctantly agreeing to endorse her.
Ayotte’s challenger, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), has pointed to her opponent’s vote-but-not-endorse stance on Trump as evidence that she should not win re-election.
“I think people should hear that statement for what it is,” Hassan told CNN. “She’s trying to have it both ways. I don’t think any elected leader who is supporting Trump for the presidency should hold office.”
Ayotte, for her part, says she is “very clearly” stating her concerns about her party’s nominee. She would not respond when asked by CNN if she trusted Donald Trump with the nuclear codes, however.
“What worries me and what I don’t trust is continuing the foreign policy that we’ve been under under this administration and that would be continued by Hillary Clinton,” she said.
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte says Donald Trump has her vote but not her endorsement https://t.co/2WH1SMjcd4 https://t.co/rtH01sofX0
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 16, 2016