Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.,, center, accompanied by fellow Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham...
J. Scott Applewhite

In debate, GOP senator says Trump is ‘absolutely’ a role model

Updated
Sen. Kelly Ayotte is in an awkward position. The New Hampshire Republican, hoping to earn a second term in one of the nation’s most competitive Senate races, is literally the only senator in New England to support Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

It’s a fact that Ayotte has struggled with all year, with the GOP incumbent repeatedly saying she sees a “big distinction” between publicly announcing her intention to vote for Trump and endorsing her party’s controversial nominee. Two weeks ago, Ayotte was asked whether or not she believes Trump is fit to be Commander in Chief, and she wouldn’t give a straight answer.

The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 10/3/16, 11:23 PM ET

Sen. Ayotte asked if Trump is a role model

In a debate for the Senate race in New Hampshire, GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte was asked if she thinks Donald Trump is a role model. MSNBC’s Brian Williams shares her reaction and discusses with his panel.
This awkwardness reached a new level last night when Ayotte debated her Democratic rival, Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), and one of the moderators asked the Republican senator whether she’d point to Donald Trump “as a role model” for children. Ayotte responded:
“I think that, uh, certainly there are many role models that we have and, um, I believe that he can serve as president and so absolutely I would do that.”
Even many of Trump’s die-hard fans would have a tough time making the case that the Republican presidential candidate is a proper role model for kids. Trump has worked hard to cultivate a reputation as a vulgar, narcissistic blowhard who doesn’t do his homework, plays by his own set of rules, and bullies anyone who stands in his way.

For Ayotte to argue, live and on camera, that she would “absolutely” point to Trump as someone children should try to emulate was, at a minimum, deeply strange.

And with that in mind, it didn’t come as too big of a surprise when Ayotte’s campaign announced after the televised debate that the senator has changed her mind.

“I misspoke tonight,” Ayotte said in a written statement issued after the event. “While I would hope all of our children would aspire to be president, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have set a good example, and I wouldn’t hold up either of them as role models for my kids.”

Whether or not this will help Ayotte remains to be seen. “Misspeaking” is a bit of a tough sell – it’s not like this was a verbal slip-up in which she said “Iraq” when she meant “Iran.” She heard the question, thought about it, and told voters what she was thinking.

The prompt walkback means the Republican senator won’t face days of questions about why she sees Trump as a role model for children, but the debate footage will likely be played over and over again for New Hampshire voters, and it’s a safe bet Democratic ads are already in the works.

Making matters even more complicated for the GOP in general, Ayotte’s difficulty with this all but guarantees other Republicans in competitive races will soon face the identical question, putting them in an awkward position, too.

Finally, even if we accept Ayotte’s second statement at face value, let’s not overlook the oddity of the circumstances: a sitting Republican senator wants her party’s national nominee to win the presidency, but she refuses to endorse him and she doesn’t want kids to act like him.

It’s yet another reminder that this is a presidential election like no other.



Donald Trump, Kelly Ayotte and New Hampshire

In debate, GOP senator says Trump is 'absolutely' a role model

Updated