- Presidential nominee defiant after crude video resurfaces
- Calls grow from elected Republicans for him to step aside
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Saturday defied party members’ calls for him to quit the presidential race over a 2005 video that surfaced of him talking crudely about women, as open rancor about the GOP’s White House choice thrust the party into its biggest crisis in decades.
“100 percent,” said Trump, 70, about staying in the race during a brief appearance outside his namesake tower in Manhattan to greet supporters after one Republican lawmaker after another abandoned him in an extraordinary political reckoning just one month before Election Day.
In the video, which surfaced on Friday, Trump talks about groping women in the “p---y,” trying and failing to “f--k” a married woman, and being able to “do anything” to women because of his fame.
Those withdrawing their support for Trump or calling for him to step aside included No. 3 Senate Republican John Thune; Senator Rob Portman, who is running for re-election in Ohio; Senator John McCain, a former Vietnam War prisoner whom Trump famously mocked last year, only to win the nomination; Senator Kelly Ayotte, who’s facing a tough re-election in the presidential battleground state of New Hampshire; and even a pair of U.S. House members from staunchly conservative Alabama.
Some Republican lawmakers said Trump should step aside to allow his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, to become the nominee, and some said they’d write in Pence on their ballot in November. Pence, a 57-year-old former U.S. House member, has served as a bridge between Trump and the Republican establishment.
Pence said in a statement that Trump’s comments in the video were offensive and indefensible.
“I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people,” Pence said. “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,” when Trump faces Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in their second debate.
Pence scrapped a planned appearance at a Wisconsin political event with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday afternoon. Pence called Trump to tell him of the cancellation, said a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s own plans to attend the event -- which would have been his first public campaign appearance with Ryan -- had been scrapped earlier, in light of the video.
Ryan at the event sidestepped the issue, referring to his Friday statement that he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks and hoped the nominee “treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”
Influential Republicans have been reaching out to Pence about what role he might be willing to play in the event that Trump drops out, said two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named. They didn’t identify those gauging Pence’s interest privately.
The Republican National Committee would have the authority to fill a vacancy on the ticket, but even if the party could convince Trump to drop out, early voting has begun in some states. Election-law experts said that means any effort to get a Republican other than Trump into the White House, through wrangling in the Electoral College and U.S. Senate, would be a long shot.
Trump mixed a videotaped apology issued shortly after midnight New York time on Saturday with a pledge to bring up former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities -- which he said went far beyond crude words -- and Hillary Clinton’s role in seeking to discredit women involved with her husband. The campaign released a statement from Trump’s wife, Melania, in a further effort to quell the damage.
"The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know," said Melania Trump, who was married to Donald Trump when the 2005 video was taped. "He has the heart and mind of a leader. I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world."
Ahead of the debate, where Republicans feared Trump will lash out like never before, Clinton released a video of her own. It highlighted Trump’s long history of insulting women and came with a message on her Twitter account: “Women have the power to stop Trump.”
She doesn’t plan to address the issue further until the debate, seeking to preserve the potency of the moment before a large audience, according to a campaign official who asked not to be named.
Democratic Vice President Joe Biden said on Twitter, “The words are demeaning. Such behavior is an abuse of power. It’s not lewd. It’s sexual assault.”
Sensing the greatest threat yet to Republicans’ chances in November’s elections -- and a moral crisis enveloping a party that brands itself as the one of family values -- incumbent lawmakers from battleground states and conservative strongholds alike condemned Trump.
Those calling for Trump to step aside also included Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Nevada Representative and Senate candidate Joe Heck. Sasse urged Trump to “let Mike Pence try,” and Crapo said the party should “put forward a conservative candidate like Mike Pence who can defeat Hillary Clinton.”
They also included Representatives Mike Coffman of Colorado, Barbara Comstock of Virginia, and Alabama’s Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne.
Senator Portman said in a statement Saturday he could no longer support Trump, describing his comments about women as offensive and wrong.
“While I continue to respect those who still support Donald Trump, I can no longer support him,” Portman said. “I will be voting for Mike Pence for President.”
Ayotte withdrew her support days after she said she misspoke by calling him a role model for children in a debate. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who never endorsed the real-estate developer, said that “it’s time for us not to settle” and “someone else” should become the party’s standard-bearer.
Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah withdrew his endorsement of Trump and said he wished Pence was at the top of the ticket. “We’re going to have to figure that out at the -- in the coming days and weeks, but it is tragic the way it is right now,” Chaffetz said on CNN.
Spencer Zwick, a top Republican fundraiser, said that “major GOP donors are pulling support from Donald Trump and are now looking to fund an effort to back someone else as the Republican nominee.” Other donors, including the Robert Mercer family and Foster Friess, said they were standing by Trump.
RNC spokesman Sean Spicer disputed a Politico story that the party had at least temporarily halted some victory-program operations supporting Trump by telling a mail vendor to hold all projects. “Despite erroneous reporting, our victory communications continue. We are working to evaluate the appropriate messaging going forward,” Spicer said in a text message.
Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon was seen entering Trump Tower in Manhattan earlier Saturday speaking on his mobile phone. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, top advisers, were also seen entering. A Trump aide who asked not to be named denied a report that Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, in a meeting of Trump advisers inside the tower, said Trump should consider dropping out.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who ran against Trump in the primary before switching to support him, said in a statement that he didn’t condone Trump’s behavior and that Trump was right to apologize.
“I feel fairly certain that the progressives have had knowledge of this conversation for a long time and dropped it at this point in time in an effort to obscure the release of damaging information about Hillary Clinton and her desire for open borders,” Carson said, referring to WikiLeaks’ publication Friday of hacked e-mails purporting to show excerpts of Clinton’s paid Wall Street speeches, which were a contentious issue in her primary race. The Clinton campaign said it wouldn’t authenticate stolen documents.
At the Ryan event in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, Paul Anderson held a sign with “Hillary Is a Criminal” on one side and a Trump logo on the other. The 28-year-old business owner from Milwaukee said he is voting for Trump. Before the event started, he yelled out for the crowd to turn their backs on Ryan when he comes out.
Why? “He disinvited Trump because of what Trump said 11 years ago in an interview about women. Meanwhile, we don’t even need to get into what the Clintons have done to women, right?” Anderson said.
Ryan disinviting Trump leads “a lot of us to believe that Paul Ryan might want Hillary to win to preserve the status quo so that he keeps his little cozy position of power and Trump goes away. He doesn’t like Trump. Guess what? We don’t like Paul Ryan.”
The situation evoked memories of the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Alaska, when incumbent Murkowski lost the Republican primary, then mounted a successful write-in effort in the sparsely populated state. It’s unclear whether Republicans could organize a credible write-drive on a national scale.
“By election day, we’ll be on the ballot or registered as a write-in in 43 states including TX & CA. A new GOP nominee could not match that,” said Evan McMullin, a conservative protest candidate and former Capitol Hill staffer, on Twitter.
The Clinton campaign’s lawyer, Marc Elias, said on Twitter that “Trump cannot drop out and be replaced on ballot” and that “whether his electors abandon him in states he wins” is a different question.
Any attempt by Republican leaders to use the Electoral College and a GOP-controlled U.S. Senate to supplant Trump after the November vote would be a “Hail Mary” strategy and “not bloody likely” to yield a President Pence because of all the variables that would have to fall into place, election-law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine wrote in a blog post Saturday.
Chris Ashby, an election lawyer who supports McMullin, disagreed with Elias -- and said the RNC even has the power to remove Trump from the ticket forcibly.
The party’s Rule 9 addresses replacement of a nominee due to “death, declination or otherwise,” and the party has broad authority to interpret its own rules, though Trump could refuse to acknowledge his removal, sue, and assert a right to receive Electoral College votes, Ashby said.
Several strategists who backed other candidates in the presidential primary and have since endorsed Trump said if he is anything but genuinely contrite in the debate, his problems will worsen.
“This was a frat-boy, locker-room, inappropriate rant. How he handles it is critical,” said Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan GOP chairman who was a senior adviser to Ted Cruz. “You can’t just laugh it off. He apparently was trying to show off and needs to be contrite about his lewd comments.”
As the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign turned the controversy into an online fundraising tool, in down-ballot races across the country, Democratic candidates and their campaigns immediately began pressuring their Republican rivals to shun Trump. By Saturday afternoon, that tactic morphed as they accused Republicans dumping Trump of opportunism.
In Indiana, a senior adviser to Democrat Evan Bayh’s Senate campaign said that Republican Todd Young had been “hesitant to stand up to” Trump for months when Trump insulted women, Muslims, and Mexican-Americans. “But now that Trump is hurting politically, he is suddenly rushing to call Trump ‘offensive,’” said Bayh campaign senior adviser Dan Parker. “Not only is it not enough, it’s politics at its most cynical.”
Democratic strategist Jim Manley said he believes the presidential race is now effectively “over” no matter if Trump stays or goes, with Clinton enjoying a slight lead in polls event before the video surfaced. Republicans, he said, “see the handwriting on the wall."