Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delicately broke with Donald Trump on a range of topics Sunday, including his running mate’s personal attacks against women who have accused him of sexual assault and on whether Russian hackers are responsible for leaking Democratic Party emails.
Pence said he would not have disparaged the women who have accused Trump, even while defending Trump against the accusations. The GOP presidential nominee has been widely criticized for suggesting on several occasions that he could not have sexually assaulted several of the women because they were not attractive enough.
“I wouldn't say anything to disparage any woman who believes they've had an experience like this. But Donald Trump's made it clear that these allegations are categorically false,” Pence said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Pence also sought to play down his running mate's rhetoric about the 2016 campaign's being “rigged.” Trump has been under fire in recent days for his insistence that the 2016 campaign election is fixed and for telling his supporters to monitor polling places on Election Day. Trump’s critics say this could lead to violence and voter suppression.
“We will absolutely accept the result of the election. Look, the American people will speak in an election that will culminate on November the 8th,” Pence told host Chuck Todd. “But the American people are tired of the obvious bias in the national media. That's where the sense of a rigged election goes here, Chuck.”
Pressed on mounting evidence indicating that Russians are responsible for hacking into Democratic Party emails, Pence broke with Trump to acknowledge that it was probably the work of Russian actors. National-security experts have criticized Trump for questioning intelligence pointing to Russia.
“Well, I think there's more and more evidence that implicates Russia. And there should be serious consequences,” Pence said.
Trump’s surrogates were determined during appearances on the Sunday morning political talk shows to blow beyond the sexual-assault allegations, accusing the media of bias and insisting that the media had not paid enough attention to the hacked WikiLeaks emails that have embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
But the accusations against Trump have weighed heavily on his campaign, overwhelming its messaging just weeks before Election Day. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a former prosecutor, appeared to also distance himself from the personal attacks Trump has launched against the women.
“I believe Donald Trump. I don't know about the nine women. I haven't studied the case. I'm a lawyer. I would have to study each case to tell you about,” Giuliani said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “I'm not going to engage in Clinton-type conduct and attack them. I'm just telling you that I believe he's telling the truth.”
Giuliani also sought to play down Trump’s comments about rigged elections, dodging questions about poll watching to claim that Trump was referring specifically to the way the media has covered the election.
“I have dealt with wacky jerks on my side and against me for too long to blame it on the candidate. You can find just as many wacko nuts on her side that write us horrible and awful things,” Giuliani said. “So, when he talks about a rigged election, he's not talking about the fact that it's going to be rigged at the polls. What he's talking about is that 80 percent to 85 percent of the media is against him.”
But when pressed, Trump's top surrogates were not willing to reject the premise that election fraud is prevalent, a theory that has not been backed by evidence. Pence, Giuliani and former House speaker Newt Gingrich specifically zeroed in on Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis as centers of such fraud.
“You look at Philadelphia, you look at St. Louis, you look at Chicago. I mean, again, I'm old enough, I remember when Richard Nixon had the election stolen in 1960, and no serious historian doubts that Illinois and Texas were stolen,” Gingrich said on ABC’s “This Week.” “So to suggest that you don't have theft in Philadelphia is to deny reality.”
Giuliani said on “State of the Union” that he would be a “moron” to reject the idea that voter fraud is an issue.
“Do you want me to tell [you] that the election in Philadelphia and Chicago is going to be fair? I would have to be a moron to say that,” he said. “I would have to dis-learn everything I've learned in 40 years.”
“But, in any event, should we be beyond that now? Should we be beyond Donald Trump's past and Hillary Clinton's past?” Giuliani said.