Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) speaks at a news conference July 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. 
Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty

Ayotte tries supporting Trump without endorsing him

It’s one of the year’s strangest rhetorical tricks: Republicans keep announcing which presidential candidate they support, only to simultaneously insist that the announcement shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement. Rachel did a great segment on this just last week, noting how common this tactic has become in 2016, with GOP officials at multiple levels going out of their way to parse the meaning of the word “support.”
Yesterday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), facing a tough re-election fight in New Hampshire this year, became the latest to push the same talking point. The Union Leader reported:
[Wednesday], her campaign office released a statement saying Ayotte will support Donald Trump, who became the presumptive Republican nominee Tuesday night with Sen. Ted Cruz’s departure from the Republican primary race.
“As she’s said from the beginning, Kelly plans to support the nominee. As a candidate herself, she hasn’t and isn’t planning to endorse anyone this cycle,” said Liz Johnson, communications director for Kelly for New Hampshire.
Johnson said the senator is not endorsing Trump.
Hmm. Ayotte supports Trump; she presumably intends to vote for Trump; and she’s willing to let the public know about her backing for Trump. She just doesn’t want that to be perceived as an “endorsement.”
And what, pray tell, is the difference? I haven’t the foggiest idea, and as best as I can tell, neither Ayotte not anyone on her staff has elaborated on the subtle nuances.
Of course, the problem isn’t limited to the New Hampshire Republican. Politico published a piece yesterday highlighting quite a few GOP senators, all of whom used nearly identical phrasing about “supporting the nominee” without endorsing him.
Whether anyone in the general public is likely to appreciate the rhetorical games is unclear, but Matt Yglesias raised a good point on the broader dynamic this morning.
A raft of GOP senators standing for reelection in blue or purple states are going to find that they are in a very uncomfortable situation thanks to a trap Majority Leader Mitch McConnell inadvertently set for them.
The problem is Merrick Garland, the relatively moderate circuit court judge Barack Obama named as his preferred replacement for Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Republicans won’t hold a vote on his nomination – they won’t even hold a hearing – on the theory that it’s inappropriate to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year.
That was a principle that served its purpose when it was first laid down but now serves another purpose entirely – directly linking every Senate election in the land to the presidential race.
That’s a good point. Senate Republicans can distance themselves from Trump, or they can leave a Supreme Court vacancy open in order to let Trump fill it, but doing both simultaneously is a tough sell.
Or put another way, to apply this to Kelly Ayotte, she supports Trump; she presumably intends to vote for Trump; she’s willing to let the public know about her backing for Trump; and she wants participate in an unprecedented partisan blockade against any Supreme Court nominee in order to allow Trump to fill a high court vacancy.
But don’t worry, she’s not “endorsing” him. Perish the thought.