In an election that keeps defying political convention, Donald Trump heads into the second presidential debate Sunday against Hillary Clinton with top Republicans snubbing him — and some even calling for his resignation from the ticket — after an explosive recording showed Trump bragging about groping women.
It’s an unprecedented position for a nominee just a month away from Election Day. Voters have already started casting ballots in a handful of states, including Florida.
A defiant Trump said Saturday he’s certainly not quitting. “Zero chance,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
“I have tremendous support,” Trump told The Washington Post.
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In reality, the GOP was thrown into crisis, with prominent Republicans wanting seemingly nothing to do with Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan uninvited him from a “unity” event in Wisconsin on Saturday. (Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was supposed to attend instead but then backed out.)
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the sitting governor of Utah and a string of members of Congress, including at least three U.S. senators from Idaho, New Hampshire and Virginia, had revoked their Trump endorsements. Several others, including South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of the Senate leadership, and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a rising Republican star, called on Trump to step down.
South Florida Republicans were united in their rebuke of Trump — but none of the big names who had endorsed him had taken back their support. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Trump’s comments “were vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify.”
“No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I’m not following politics closely right now, but this is terrible,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who chairs a pro-Trump super PAC, said in a statement. “I don’t agree with anyone talking like this about anyone, ever.”
“I’m glad Mr. Trump issued an apology for the tape that was released in which he is heard saying disrespectful and completely unacceptable comments regarding his interactions with women,” U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said in a statement. “It’s important that he acknowledged that statements like those are offensive and reprehensible.”
Trump hadn’t actually apologized at the time Diaz-Balart weighed in. He had released a written statement excusing his 2005 comments caught on tape as “locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.”
“Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close,” Trump said. “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
Eight hours later, he released a video statement expressing more regret — but still dismissing the audiotape as a “distraction” and attacking Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” he said. “I’ve said some foolish things but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
“See you at the debate on Sunday,” Trump concluded.
Earlier in the week, Trump had told the New York Post’s Page Six — a gossip column — he planned to avoid mentioning former President Clinton’s infidelities.
On Friday, The Washington Post published the 2005 recording in which Trump — apparently captured by a hot microphone — spoke in remarkably lewd terms about making sexual advances toward women.
Trump was recorded arriving on the “Days of Our Lives” set with Billy Bush, then host of “Access Hollywood” (and first cousin of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush).
“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump said about his attraction to “beautiful” women. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.”
Hillary Clinton called the recording “horrific.”
“We cannot allow this man to become president,” she tweeted.
The nearly two weeks following the acrimonious first debate between Clinton and Trump had already been difficult for Trump, who slid in polls in Florida, a must-win state for him. He spent five days defending past comments ridiculing 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado about her weight. He dismissed a documented report that his casino company broke the Cuban trade embargo in 1998. The New York Times found he could have avoided paying any federal income taxes for 18 years beginning in 1995.
The worst news for Clinton was that WikiLeaks published a trove of hacked emails Friday from her campaign chairman, John Podesta. Some emails included excerpts of her paid speeches, including those to Wall Street, that she has kept secret, perhaps for fear that they might paint her as an out-of-touch political insider too cozy with the big banks. The transcripts — which she could have released herself — show her talking about “open trade and open borders” in the Americas.
As an outsider, Trump could argue Sunday he hardly needs the Republican establishment to succeed. But at a time when his campaign needs to grow its support among undecided voters, he risks losing women, a key political constituency.
Ahead of the town hall-style debate at 9 p.m. at Washington University in St. Louis on Sunday, Trump boasted he hadn’t prepared much — despite getting panned for letting Clinton rattle him in the first one.
“I said, ‘Forget debate prep.’ I mean, give me a break,” Trump said at a New Hampshire event Thursday that was supposed to act as practice. “Do you really think that Hillary Clinton is debate-prepping for three or four days? Hillary Clinton is resting, OK?”