In the wake of controversial reports surrounding Donald Trump’s campaign chief Steve Bannon, Trump’s surrogates and supporters are finding themselves on defense over both the candidate’s policy positions and his staffing choices.
The Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence fended off questions about the campaign’s CEO on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, after news outlets unearthed charges of domestic violence filed against Bannon by his then-wife 20 years ago.
“I know Steve Bannon has denied those charges,” Pence said, when asked about the former Breitbart News executive. “I know he enjoys a very strong relationship with his ex-wife and their two wonderful kids.”
Bannon pleaded not guilty in the mid-1990s case, which was later dismissed because his wife at the time failed to appear at the trial months later. In their divorce filings shortly after, Bannon’s wife accused him of making anti-Semitic complaints that he didn’t want their twin daughters “going to school with Jews.”
But Pence dismissed the reported controversies and seemed to lay the blame at the feet of the media, saying he knew the press liked to harp on the “processed stores, these staff stories.”
“I think all of these process stories go by the wayside,” the Indiana governor said. “And this election is going to be decided on whether we go with the status quo and failed policies, or whether we embrace real change and a stronger America.”
In the same interview, Pence also defended Trump’s seemingly shifting stances on immigration, saying that the candidate “has been completely consistent in his positions.”
“Let’s be very clear first off. Nothing has changed about Donald Trump’s position on dealing with illegal immigration,” he told CNN. “There will be no path to legalization ... no path to citizenship. People that want to gain legal status, you heard Donald Trump say again and again, will have to leave the country.”
Later, when asked about the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants still in the country, Pence said “Donald Trump will articulate what we do with the people who are here.”
Another Trump surrogate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also hit the airwaves to discuss Trump’s immigration plans and assure Americans that “we’re not going to have amnesty.”
“This is a guy who has been very consistent on no amnesty, no legalization, for folks who have been coming to the country illegally,” Christie told ABC News on Sunday.
Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, gave similar responses on immigration during an interview on NBC.
“You’re going to find out from Donald Trump very shortly. He’s going to be giving prepared remarks on this issue, I think very soon,” Priebus said Sunday.
The RNC chair added that “I just don’t speak for Donald Trump” on immigration, before continuing: “His position is going to be tough. His position is going to be fair. His position is going to be humane.”
Asked specifically about birthright citizenship, which Donald Trump staunchly opposes, Priebus said he was “comfortable” with continuing the practice.
“I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with the Supreme Court rulings on the issue,” Priebus said. “A nominee is not - doesn’t have to adopt every single position and platform position of the Republican party. If we’re talking about what my opinion is on birthright citizenship, [it] does not necessarily have to be adopted by a nominee. My exact view of immigration and how it should be pursued does not have to be adopted by a nominee.”
Of Bannon, Priebus appeared to distance himself from the ex-Breitbart executive, who had fanned the alt-right ideological flames while he headed the news site.
“I go with the flow based on what the campaign wants to do. I think Kellyanne is doing a phenomenal job,” he said, referring to Trump’s new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. “I don’t know Steve Bannon, to tell you the truth, very well.”
Pressed on the recent scandals around Bannon, Priebus had this to say to NBC’s Chuck Todd: “I don’t know how much of it is true or not and neither do you. And so, I don’t speculate based on what other third parties say about people. I tend to judge people based on what I see and what I interact with.”