CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After largely staying silent for the first few days of the firestorm that erupted after a leaked video showed his running mate making lewd comments about women, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence expressed strong support for Donald Trump on Monday.
“It’s been an interesting few days,” Pence said as he began.
Pence’s acknowledgment drew laughs and applause from the audience for his speech at a reception hall in Charlotte’s North Davidson arts district.
“But I’ve got to tell you, I joined this campaign in a heartbeat because you have nominated a man for president who never quits,” Pence continued. “He is a fighter. He is a winner, and we will make America great again.”
Pence went on to draw on his background as a devout evangelical Christian to make the case that Trump showed “grace” in his apology and deserved “forgiveness.”
The video, which was revealed by the Washington Post on Friday, showed Trump behind the scenes of a Hollywood talk show in 2005 talking about trying to “f***” and grope women. Trump boasted that as a celebrity, the women would let him get away with it. The scandalous comments led to a wave of condemnations from Republican officials.
Pence’s appearance came hours after he gave multiple television interviews dismissing rumors he might want to drop out of the campaign or to take over the ticket from Trump. That speculation was fueled by the fact that Pence canceled a planned appearance on Saturday and avoided commenting on the video apart from a statement condemning Trump’s “words and actions.”
On Saturday, a campaign source told Yahoo that, other than denouncing Trump’s behavior, Pence wanted to let Trump speak for himself through the second presidential debate on Sunday evening. The silence was particularly notable since the Trump campaign has hoped Pence’s Christian credentials, political experience and calm demeanor could make him a messenger that would broaden Trump’s appeal with wary voters.
At his speech in Charlotte, Pence praised Trump for apologizing for his actions during the the debate against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Sunday.
“You know, it takes a big man to know when he’s wrong and to admit it, and have the humility to apologize and be transparent and be vulnerable,” said Pence. “And Donald Trump last night showed that he’s a big man.”
Pence also described the Monday morning media blitz in which he defended Trump.
“I was on television this morning on MSNBC,” Pence began.
The audience booed at the mention of the left-leaning cable network.
“I was on a few … somebody asked me about my faith and they asked me about the fact that I say that I’m a Christian [and] in the wake of the last few days, what I make of everything. And I’ll tell you what, I welcome the opportunity,” Pence said.
Pence continued by explaining why his religion led him to accept Trump’s apology.
“Other than that woman standing next to me, my wife … the most important decision in my life was when I made the decision for Christ in 1970. And I was happy to explain on that television program that I’m a believer and my faith informs me … that we aspire to live godly lives, but it also informs me that we all fall short,” Pence said.
“We all fall short of the glory of God,” he continued.“There’s no one righteous other than the one. As I said last weekend, I don’t condone what was said and I spoke out against it, but the other part of my faith is, I believe in grace. … I believe in forgiveness.”
Pence went on to praise Trump for apologizing and showing “what was in his heart” on the debate stage and then turning “the focus” to his disagreements with Clinton. As Pence spoke, his microphone died.
Audio woes also plagued Trump during his first debate with Clinton last month. One audience member noted the similarity.
“Hillary did it!” they shouted as Pence got his mic turned back on.
Pence concluded his comments on the video by giving his view of the stakes in the election.
“It’s not just a choice between two people. It’s a choice between two futures,” Pence said, adding, “I choose a stronger America at home and abroad. i choose a more prosperous America. I choose an America that stands up for the constitutional principles that made this country great. I choose to stand with Donald Trump!”