Donald Trump’s performance on Sunday night was enough for Sens. Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst.

The Arkansas Republican challenged Trump on Saturday night at an Iowa Republican Party dinner “to throw himself on the mercy of the American people” and “beg for their forgiveness” while pledging to change his ways. Otherwise, Cotton said, Trump should consider stepping aside.

On Sunday night, Trump did apologize to his family and Americans but repeatedly said his sexually aggressive and lewd conduct in 2005 was merely “locker room talk” and did not beg for forgiveness. But given Trump’s repeated apologies, Cotton said in an emailed statement on Monday that he’s still sticking with the nominee.

“Donald apologized to the American people, said his remarks were embarrassing, and acknowledges that while he can’t change what he said years ago, he can change Washington now. I encourage him to keep focusing on the issues that matter to Americans,” Cotton said.

Cotton’s defense of Trump shows how he’s positioning himself ahead of 2020. In addition to sticking with the party standard-bearer through his many controversies, he’s in Iowa campaigning for Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and other down-ballot candidates, and has stumped for Sen. John McCain of Arizona and several other incumbent senators. And while Cotton quickly answered the question about his continued support for Trump, some of his potential rivals are frozen when it comes to the embattled nominee.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas endorsed Trump just this month, and while he considered over the weekend revoking his support for Trump, he has not done so yet. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has been silent on the matter as he responds to Hurricane Matthew and runs for reelection. And House Speaker Paul Ryan essentially abandoned Trump on Monday, drawing the instant wrath of the Republican nominee.


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