An avalanche of Republicans began abandoning Donald Trump on Saturday, even as the embattled Republican nominee dug in to defend himself, declaring there was “zero chance” he would quit the race with Election Day exactly one month away.
Less than 24 hours after a tape surfaced of Trump describing his pursuit of women in lewd and assaulting terms — “I don’t even wait,” he bragged about groping a woman’s genitals — Trump faced defections from prominent supporters, congressmen, governors and senators.
Even Trump’s own running mate Mike Pence refused to firmly stand behind his political partner, cancelling a planned appearance in Wisconsin on Trump’s behalf and saying, “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”
It was a historic and unprecedented floodgate of opposition to the Republican nominee from within his own party, from the head of the national college Republicans (“The Party of Lincoln is not a locker room”) to the No. 3-ranked GOP senator, John Thune (“Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately.”).
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is up for reelection this fall, was among those who withdrew their endorsements in sharply personal terms. “I’m a mom and an American first,” Ayotte said, “and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.”
Her statement was one of many signs that the early and tepid Trump denunciations on Friday were morphing into far fiercer renunciations — including demands that he resign. Rep. Martha Roby, in a solid Republican district in Alabama, announced on Saturday that she too could no longer back Trump.
Carly Fiorina, who ran for president and was briefly Ted Cruz’s running mate, called on Trump to “step aside.” Conservative radio show host and Trump defender Hugh Hewitt said the nominee “should withdraw.” “More and worse oppo coming,” Hewitt wrote on Twitter. And in an impassioned video posted on Facebook after midnight, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah told Trump: “Step down.”
Trump seemed to want to make light of the whole affair. On Saturday morning he tweeted, “Certainly has been an interesting 24 hours!” sending the missive from an Android device, which Trump typically uses to write his own tweets.
He called reporters at the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post to insist he is remaining in the race. “I never, ever give up,” Trump told the Journal, denying any kind of crisis. “The support I’m getting is unbelievable, because Hillary Clinton is a horribly flawed candidate.”
Asked about his crude language, Trump replied, “People get it. They get life.”
But Pence’s decision not to campaign for Trump in Wisconsin — at an event with Speaker Paul Ryan that Trump himself was initially expected to attend — was a chilling sign for the chances of his candidacy in the final month. Pence had been announced as Trump’s stand-in only hours earlier.
Under siege, Trump struggled to somehow cast his own indiscretions into a liability for Hillary Clinton, who remained out of sight beyond her tweet on Friday that, “We cannot allow this man to become president.”
In a 91-second video apology released after midnight, Trump said the tape was “more than a decade-old video” and then, within moments, decided to air decades-old allegations against former President Bill Clinton.
“I’ve said some foolish things but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump said. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
He suggested he will give such topics airing in St. Louis. “See you at the debate on Sunday,” he ended the recording.
One Trump source said that is now the plan for Sunday’s debate: “Attack Hillary re Bill’s sex crimes.”
Among those denouncing Trump on Saturday were a former aide, Pratik Chougule, who worked in Trump’s policy operation earlier this year. “I regret my decision last April to join the campaign as policy coordinator. Although I left the campaign in August for a variety of reasons, I wish that I had done so sooner and spoken out more forcefully against a candidate who embodies the worst excesses of our culture,” he said in an email.
A few Republicans stood by Trump. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins did not withdraw support even as he said in a statement that “as a husband and father of three daughters, I find this behavior deeply offensive and degrading.”
“As I have made clear, my support for Donald Trump in the general election was never based upon shared values rather it was built upon shared concerns,” Perkins said.
Eli Stokols, Matt Nussbaum and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.
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