Springfield, Mo. — In the 24 hours since the Washington Post first published video of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women and speaking explicitly about his sexual advances toward them, Republicans across the country have run from their nominee in droves. A number of Senators, House members, and governors have announced they will not support him for president in November. Several have even called for him to step down as the nominee.
Only one of them is from Missouri.
Republicans in the Show Me State, which will play host to the second presidential debate of 2016 tomorrow evening, are largely standing by their nominee and brushing off calls for him to step down. It’s not necessarily that they are particularly enamored with Trump, according to a source familiar with internal Republican polling; it’s that Hillary Clinton’s popularity numbers in the state are abysmal. Unlike in other states, there is little incentive here for Republicans to back away from Trump. He holds a 10-point lead in the Real Clear Politics polling average, and is all but certain to win the state on November 8.
So while elected officials in other states sprint for the exit, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt reiterated this morning that he would still vote for Trump.
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As Blunt spoke at the Greene County GOP headquarters this afternoon, a growing number of his Senate colleagues deserted Trump: Kelly Ayotte and Joe Heck, both in hyper-competitive Senate races, announced they would no longer back the embattled nominee. Ayotte and Heck evidently believe that defecting could help them in their purple-state races.
Senators Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner, Jeff Flake, Mike Crapo joined Ayotte and Heck, as did Senator John Thune, a member of Senate leadership along with Blunt. Representative Ann Wagner withdrew her endorsement of Trump outright, becoming the only Republican in Missouri’s congressional delegation to do so.
Republicans in the Show Me State, which will play host to the second presidential debate of 2016 tomorrow evening, are largely standing by their nominee.
But Wagner is expected to easily win reelection; Blunt’s positions is far more precarious. He holds just a 2.5 percentage point lead in the Real Clear Politics polling average, and it’s a race Republicans grew increasingly concerned about over the past month, as it became clear he was not in so solid a position as many had assumed. Missouri Republican operatives say they now believe Blunt will pull it out — but he remains the rare GOP Senate candidate whose poll numbers lag behind Trump’s. That gives him every reason to avoid doing anything to hurt the top of the ticket, because if Trump’s number start to fall, there’s a possibility that his could too.
So Blunt, in his speech this afternoon, urged Republicans to back Trump, deeming this “the most important election ever.”
“The most important thing about the presidential election and this Senate election . . . [and]Senate elections anywhere, is the Supreme Court,” he said. “The next president is more likely than not to appoint a new generational majority” to the Court, he added, without mentioning Trump by name.
In an interview with National Review Friday shortly after the video was posted, Blunt steered clear of any prolonged discussion on Trump. He said he had not yet seen the video and couldn’t comment, but declared that both presidential candidates “have a lot of explaining to do” when it comes to past comments.
Blunt is a seasoned campaigner, and it shows in the deftness by which he avoids expressing any opinion — positive or negative — of Trump. Asked if he sees Trump as a role model, a question that tripped up Ayotte earlier in the week, Blunt replied: “I think I answered this week . . . whatever I said is what I said.” Asked about the fact that Trump has spent his candidacy attacking Washington insiders and politicians — a descriptor that fits Blunt like a glove — Blunt brushes it off. “I just don’t think that’s a problem. And frankly, in our state, Donald Trump and I are both ahead in all the polling,” he said.
Blunt is in a unique position for Senators in competitive races. Regardless of what his colleagues do, he could have a lot to lose by jumping on the bandwagon against Trump — even if he is one of the few left in the presidential nominee’s corner.
#related#But other Missouri Republicans appeared to be making the same calculation in the wake of the latest bombshell to rock Trump’s campaign.
Mike Parson, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, told National Review that Trump’s comments were “wrong,” but the controversy was beside the point. “What I want to know right now is can they lead the United States of America and can they make it a better place. And I definitely don’t think Hillary Clinton can do that. There’s just no way,” he said.
Scott Magill, the president of the Missouri Republican Assembly, who chaired Saturday’s meeting at the Green County GOP headquarters, put a finer point on it: “By bailing off of Trump at this point, were not going to win.”