Politics & Policy

A Trump Nomination to Heal the Party: Kelly Ayotte

Kelly Ayotte (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
She’d be a big help to the new administration.

The Trump transition team is quickly getting to work to identify the best choices for Cabinet posts, as well as for a Supreme Court nominee to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia, which has remained vacant since last February. A leaked list of prospective Cabinet picks suggests that the transition team, led by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, is almost exclusively focused on Trump loyalists — and men. While Trump may wish to reward loyalty, it would be a costly error for him to shut out Republicans, or even Democrats, who could contribute to the hard work of governing.

Trump and his former rival, Hillary Clinton, have divided the nation more than any other presidential nominees in history, and while Republicans will control both houses of Congress, the margins are close. Trump will need a united GOP and some Democratic support in order to have a successful presidency. The self-proclaimed expert negotiator will have an arduous path to find common ground with Democrats. But the president-elect could begin healing his own party by offering an overture to the anti-Trump Republicans. Perhaps there is no better way to accomplish this than by nominating an avid critic of Trump who might have lost her reelection race because of Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

There is no love lost between Senator Kelly Ayotte and Trump. While other candidates would eventually follow her lead, Ayotte was one of the first Republicans to say she would “support but not endorse” the GOP presidential nominee, who handily won the Republican primary in Ayotte’s home state of New Hampshire. She would later go on to state that Trump was not a role model, and ultimately that she would not be voting for the top of her party’s ticket.

As could be expected, Trump was less than gracious about their differences of opinion. In what was an unprecedented move — a presidential nominee attacking a Senate candidate from his own party — Trump said: “I don’t know Kelly Ayotte. I know she’s given me no support — zero support — and yet I’m leading her in the polls. I’m doing very well in New Hampshire. We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don’t need weak people.”

In fact, Trump was not leading Ayotte in the polls. My company, InsideSources/NH Journal, polled the race in New Hampshire twice before the election. As other polls also showed, Ayotte was outperforming Trump. Additionally, our final poll, taken a week ahead of Election Day and accurate on the final vote within the margin of error, found that Trump was a significant drag on Ayotte’s reelection chances.

The New Hampshire race would prove to be the closest in the country. When the final tally was announced by the New Hampshire secretary of state late Wednesday, Ayotte lost to Governor Maggie Hassan by 716 votes. Trump received 7,883 fewer votes than Ayotte. If not for Trump’s unpopularity in New Hampshire, it’s reasonable to believe that Ayotte would have been reelected.

Ayotte has the right experience and would breeze through the confirmation process.

With the election now past us and the seriousness of the task ahead now confronting Ayotte and Trump, the president-elect should give strong consideration to naming the New Hampshire senator his attorney general, defense secretary, homeland-security secretary, or Supreme Court nominee. Ayotte would mark a smart contrast to the male-dominated shortlists that the campaign has put forward for the Cabinet and the Supreme Court, but, more important, she has the right experience and would breeze through the confirmation process.

A former prosecutor, Ayotte is the only woman ever to be appointed attorney general of New Hampshire: She was originally appointed by a Republican governor and twice reappointed by a Democrat. She has argued before the Supreme Court, and, in another high-profile case, she successfully won a conviction and a death sentence for a cop killer.

Ayotte built a reputation in the Senate for her dedication to her constituents. Conservatives vetting Trump’s appointments will be pleased by the stances she took in the Senate. From her position on the Armed Services Committee, she supported a strong military, and she opposed both the Iran nuclear deal and the closure of Guantanamo. She is a fiscal conservative, opposing Obamacare, supporting lower taxes for families and businesses, and fighting for lower federal spending. She worked to give better tools to law enforcement to fight crime in their communities.

But Ayotte also knew the importance of working across the aisle, a talent that will be needed now more than ever, as our nation remains deeply divided. Ayotte worked with Democrats to stem the opioid epidemic and stop sexual assault on college campuses. She supports offering over-the-counter birth control. While Ayotte is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and seeks to restore the rights of those unfairly denied a firearms purchase, she opposes allowing suspected terrorists to buy guns. She has also stood for equal rights for the LGBT community.

Despite their differences, Trump needs someone like Ayotte in his Cabinet or as a Supreme Court nominee. While Trump’s base will see much to appreciate in Ayotte’s conservatism, she is a conservative with a smile and a brand of New Hampshire politeness that has been sorely lacking up to this point in Trump’s time on the political stage.

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