Donald Trump’s campaign is in serious trouble. But you wouldn’t know it from an Asheville area rally held by his running mate Mike Pence last night. Pence’s visit came one day after the 2nd presidential debate and after a weekend of turmoil for the Republican ticket. Trump’s campaign had already been in a difficult spot when it was rocked by the release of a previously unseen 2005 tape showing him bragging about sexual assaulting women. The campaign has been hemorrhaging support since the tape’s release. Dozens of Republicans across the country announced they wouldn’t support him. Some even called for him to drop out. Just hours before Pence arrived in western North Carolina, the highest ranking Republican, House speaker Paul Ryan, announced he would no longer defend Trump, and would instead spend all of his energy defending Congressional Republicans to be a check on a Hillary Clinton presidency. A new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed Donald Trump trailing nationally by double digits, a staggering deficit in this hyper-partisan era, less than a month from election day.
But at Pence’s rally at the western North Carolina Ag center in Fletcher, the tone was defiant, and the speakers, at least publicly, expressed confidence. State Representative Michele Presnell and Congressman Mark Meadows warmed up the crowd, throwing out plenty of familiar crowd pleasers, eliciting this refrain from the audience.
<chants of ‘Lock her up!’>
That refrain is nothing new to the election, but the context is. Donald Trump said during the debate that if elected, Hillary Clinton would be in jail.
Pence took a bit of a softer tone, speaking often of his faith, and mentioning the many North Carolinians impacted by Hurricane Matthew. His western swing was itself a product of flooding in Fayetteville, where he had been scheduled to appear. But if the tone was softer than his warmups, the message in his 45 minutes of remarks was pretty much the same. Pence rehashed familiar attack lines on Clinton’s honesty, her use of a private e-mail server, and on their many policy differences. And he implored voters to elect Trump to keep a conservative Supreme Court.
“For the sake of the rule of law. For the sake of the sanctity of life. For the sake of the 2nd amendment to the Constitution of the United State and the right to keep and bear arms. For the sake of all of our God-given liberties enshrined in our founding documents, we must decide here and now that the next president to make appointments to the Supreme Court of the United State of America will be President Donald Trump.”
One common theme from the night was that Trump won Sunday night’s debate.
“Let’s just go ahead and make it official. Donald Trump won that debate.”
But several post-debate polls disagreed, and most analysts seemed to think the debate failed to change the course of the election.
Despite speculation that he had been considering leaving the ticket in recent days over the leaked tape of his running mate, Pence tried to make clear his commitment to Trump was not wavering
“You know it takes a big man to admit that we was wrong. To admit it. To express remorse and to apologize, and last night Donald Trump showed America that we has a big man.”
Outside the rally, Trump supporters expressed much the same. Rebecca Pettit of Henderson County said his comments could be dismissed since he’s not a typical politician, but conceded the remarks did bother her.
“Well, yeah. But hopefully he’s matured and now sees the error of his ways.”
Joanne Jones of Hendersonville believes he has, saying Trump followed the Lord and apologized.
“So I think this is something that he and his lord have done, and we as his voters have to acknowledge that this man is not the kind of person that has been described to be.”
Meanwhile western Carolina state lawmaker Michele Presnell was more strident.
“Private conversations, in a locker room, 11 years ago, did not compromise national security, and it certainly did not kill four Americans in Benghazi.”
North Carolina will continue to see high profile visits this week, with Barack Obama and Tim Kaine scheduled for rallies, and Trump himself later in the week.