Editorial: Ayotte can’t dodge Trump forever

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte leaves a GOP policy luncheon with Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Sen. John Barrasso and Sen. John Thune in Washington on May 24. AP

Published: 6/10/2016 12:04:56 AM

Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s re-election strategy has been to distance herself from the presumptive GOP nominee for president, Donald Trump. His latest appalling behavior, a grossly biased attack on a respected federal judge, has GOP loyalists running around “with their hair on fire,” as the pundits say.

In hardly a bold move, since as attorney general she was the state’s top law enforcement officer, Ayotte safely joined the GOP crowd and said Trump should retract his comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, which she said were “offensive and wrong.” She and others demanded Trump apologize, which of course he didn’t.

In the meantime, in the distorted business of Republican candidates trying to survive The Donald, Ayotte still supports Trump, because he’s the voters’ choice. But she’s not endorsing him, because she’s running for re-election. It is the same convoluted spin that Republicans have cooked up so they can be party loyalists, keep their hands clean of Trump, avoid offending his primary election supporters and, above all, hold on to their seats in Congress.

Enough already. New Hampshire voters, Republican and Democrat, know a dodge when they see one. Ayotte, running neck and neck in the latest poll with her Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan, and facing a primary challenger in former state senator Jim Rubens, shouldn’t get away with the support/not endorse avoidance tactic anymore. Just using that tangled lingo suggests she’s got some issues with Trump. Why doesn’t she just say so?

Ayotte and other Republicans are walking the line in a bizarre election season of their party’s own making. But that doesn’t justify evasion of the elephant in the room by any Republican candidates in dangerous re-election races.

We believe this is especially true for Ayotte. As a freshman senator, she was launched into national prominence by the GOP Senate leadership and schooled in critical, high-visibility issues, including military readiness and national security – her website calls her a “leading voice” on that issue. She is a member of the prestigious Armed Services Committee, as well as the Homeland Security and Budget committees. She was ever present for photo ops with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. With that background, Ayotte owes it to all New Hampshire voters to address the statements – many of them downright frightening – made by the real estate billionaire whom her own party says should be the next leader of the free world.

Ayotte wants to talk about issues important to New Hampshire voters – translation, not having to do with Trump, who will be back here on Monday.

This week, she addressed a plan to crack down on fentanyl users – obviously a crisis of concern to all of us. But not to the exclusion of equally important topics. It should have been unacceptable to New Hampshire voters, for example, for Ayotte to say in April that she can’t comment on Trump’s foreign policy speech because she didn’t listen to it and didn’t read it because she was busy doing her job. This is her job.

Establishment strategists have said that Ayotte has taken the smart route in not being a friend or foe of Trump, making her own case and positioning herself as independent of the Republican Party.

In the new world of “disruptor” politics, that neutral, say-nothing approach is wrong, and considering what’s at stake, dangerous.

If Ayotte is re-elected, and there is a President Trump, she will have to deal with him through her own powerful position. New Hampshire voters have a right to know how she plans to do that.

We urge Ayotte to take some old sage advice from her colleague and New Hampshire favorite John McCain. Let’s have some straight talk. Right now.

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