NEW YORK – Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence on Monday gave Donald Trump a passing grade on his debate performance and denied reports that he considered quitting the ticket after a 2005 video surfaced of Trump talking about groping women.
"Donald Trump stepped up," Pence said on Fox News. "He showed humility. He showed strength. He expressed genuine contrition for the words that he had used on the video."
Pence said he was "proud" of his running mate and, after an avalanche of Republican lawmakers' defections, said he hoped others believe in "redemption" and "second chances" as much as he does.
The video, which the Washington Post uncovered with just one month until U.S. elections, shows Trump on a hot microphone talking about grabbing women and being able to "do anything" to women because of his fame.
Republican leaders who withdrew their support for Trump amid fears of handing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the White House and losing seats in Congress included 2008 nominee John McCain. Many called for Pence, the governor of Indiana, to replace Trump at the top of the ticket.
"I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them," said Pence, a born-again Christian who's served as a bridge between Trump and the Republican establishment, in a statement Saturday amid the party's crisis.
Indicating he'd be watching Trump's Sunday debate performance closely, Pence said in the statement, "I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people. We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night."
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned Trump's comments but haven't revoked their endorsements.
Trump has mixed contrition and counterattacks, blasting "self-righteous hypocrites" and reiterating in the debate that he apologizes for his comments. He called them "locker-room talk" and said he wasn't proud of the comments. He denied that he'd sexually assaulted women — a denial Pence said he accepted — and sought to turn claims of mistreating women back on former President Bill Clinton and on the Democratic nominee.
In another split on the Republican ticket, Trump in the debate said he didn't share Pence's view that Russian provocations in Syria should "be met with American strength."
"He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree," Trump said.
Pence accused Martha Raddatz, one of the moderators of Sunday's debate, of having "mischaracterized" his own comments on Russia and Syria in the Oct. 4 vice presidential debate, saying he was addressing the Aleppo humanitarian crisis, not the broader conflict in Syria.
"I didn't begrudge him at all," Pence said of Trump's remark.
Trump and Pence trail the Democratic ticket by an average of 4.5 percentage points in national polls that also include third-party candidates, survey aggregator RealClearPolitics said.