During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Joni Ernst declined to run with then-candidate Donald Trump as his vice presidential nominee out of concern for her family, she said in court records from her divorce proceedings.
The Guardian, which obtained the filings, reported that Ernst, a first-term Republican senator from Iowa, said that Trump had interviewed her to be his running mate.
“I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn’t the right thing for me or my family,” Ernst said in an affidavit filed in the divorce case last year, according to the Guardian. She added that she “continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher” out of concern for her husband and family. She went on to claim that her husband, Gail, was abusive and “hated any successes I had and would belittle me and get angry any time I achieved a goal,” according to the newspaper.
After the divorce settlement earlier this month, the court records were unsealed, but as The Washington Post requested them Tuesday, an order was filed restricting access to them again.
“All of those records we thought were to be sealed, and so, what happened in our private life has now become public for public consumption,” the senator told reporters about the documents, according to the Des Moines Register. “I am a survivor, and I fully believe that our survivors have the right to keep their stories to themselves if they don’t want to share those stories or are not ready to share those stories. And, unfortunately, I have been forced to share my story.”
Ernst declined to comment further, saying only that she wants to focus on “being the best United States senator I can be but understanding that a lot of those incidents in my past have influenced the types of policies that I work on.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post, and an attorney for Gail Ernst declined to comment on the case.
In June 2016, Ernst told reporters she did not expect to be tapped to be Trump’s running mate.
"I think he must have his eyes set on somebody else, and that’s okay,” she said at the time, according to the Des Moines Register. When she was asked whether she would consider joining the ticket, she responded: “I don’t think an offer is going to be forthcoming, so I really haven’t considered that option to be honest. I think I just need to focus on Iowa.”
The next month, Trump met with Ernst in New Jersey, writing on Twitter that the senator had been doing “a great job” in Iowa. But it was unclear whether Trump had asked Ernst to be on his ticket.
As The Post previously reported, Ernst, who was raised on a farm in Stanton, Iowa, “rose to prominence on the back of an ad about castrating hogs.”
But it wasn’t a farm in Iowa that put her on the path to the U.S. Senate, it was one in the Soviet state of Ukraine. Back in 1989 while Ernst was at Iowa State University she took part in an agricultural exchange on a family farm in the Soviet Union. By her own account, the experience seeing a suffering country led her to realize how much she loved the United States. She would go on to spend 21 years in the Army National Reserves and the Iowa Army National Guard to express that patriotism.
It was her military background and her ability help reach female voters that were seen as a potential asset to Trump, the New York Times reported then.
However, Ernst told Politico at the time: “I made that very clear to [Trump] that I’m focused on Iowa. I feel that I have a lot more to do in the United States Senate. And Iowa is where my heart is. I’m just getting started here. I have a great partner with Chuck Grassley, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot. And I think that President Trump will need some great assistance in the United States Senate and I can provide that.”
Ultimately, Trump chose then-governor of Indiana and former congressman Mike Pence.