Caught on tape making shockingly crude comments about a married woman he tried to seduce, Donald Trump reeled under widespread condemnation that included his own party on Friday, increasingly desperate to salvage a presidential bid at risk of imploding.
Trump tried to head off some of the damage by issuing a statement apologizing “if anyone was offended” by vulgar remarks captured on a 2005 tape and made public Friday. In the recording, obtained by The Washington Post and NBC News, Trump describes trying to have sex with the married woman and brags about women letting him kiss and grab them because he is famous.
“When you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
He adds seconds later, “Grab them by the p—-. You can do anything.”
The one-sentence response from the head of Trump’s Republican Party was devastating.
“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” said Reince Priebus, who had stood by Trump through his past provocative comments.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was sickened by Trump’s comments.
“I hope Mr. Trump 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.”
Ryan added tartly that Trump was “no longer attending” a joint campaign appearance set for Saturday in Wisconsin. Trump himself later tweeted that he would be preparing for Sunday night’s debate instead.
Other Republicans, painfully aware of Trump’s possible impact on their own political fates, were quick to chime in. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is locked in a close race, called his comments “totally inappropriate and offensive.”
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was “beside himself” and his wife was furious, according to a person familiar with their thinking. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to share the private discussion.
For all the condemnation, there was no GOP clamor for Trump to bow out. But Ryan’s spokesman and others who criticized the candidate’s comments sidestepped the question.
On the tape, Trump is caught on a live microphone while talking with Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” The candidate is heard saying “I did try and f— her. She was married.” He also uses graphic terms to describe the woman’s body and says he frequently tries to kiss beautiful women.
“Access Hollywood” said a recent Associated Press story about Trump’s lewd behind-the-scenes comments as star of “The Apprentice” led it to dig through its archives and turn up the previously unaired tape. It was recorded during a bus ride while Trump was on his way to appear in an episode of the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, seized on Trump’s quotes, calling them “horrific.” She said in a Twitter message: “We cannot allow this man to become president.”
But she had her own problems with revelations.
The WikiLeaks organization posted what it said were thousands of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, including some with excerpts from speeches she gave to Wall Street executives and others — speeches she has declined to release despite demands from Trump.
The excerpts include Clinton seeming to put herself in the free trade camp, a position she has retreated from. In a talk to a Brazilian bank in 2013, she said her dream was “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.”
Trump strongly opposes current U.S. trade deals and insists Clinton is too cozy with Wall Street to reform it.
Friday’s revelations came two days before Trump and Clinton are to meet in the second presidential debate, with the Republican urgently in need of a strong performance. After his uneven showing in the first contest, public opinion polls have showed Clinton pulling ahead in nearly all battleground states, some of which are already in the midst of early voting.
There were plenty of other problems for Trump on what surely was one of the worst days of his two-year drive for the White House.
His advisers planned for him to spend a quiet Friday preparing for the debate and meeting with border security officials. But the day was quickly consumed by a series of controversies, including Trump’s unsubstantiated claim about immigrants in the U.S. illegally voting in the election and his questioning the innocence of five black teenagers exonerated in a 1989 rape case.
Then, there were new signs of unusual links between Trump and Russia. For the first time, the U.S. publicly blamed the Russian government for hacking the Democratic National Committee and accused Moscow of trying to interfere with the American election. Diplomats also told the AP that Russia had lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations over a U.N. official’s condemnations of Trump.
Also in the mix Friday: New questions about the Trump campaign’s finances. With roughly a month until Election Day, the campaign has yet to schedule the $100 million in television advertising that his campaign boasted about just two weeks ago. The campaign has just half that amount scheduled, and late this week shifted ad money around rather than increasing its overall investment, suggesting a bit of penny-pinching even as the clock winds down.
While Trump has survived numerous controversies that would have sunk other candidates, Friday’s developments came at a crucial moment. Less than five weeks from Election Day, he needs to expand his support and is struggling in particular with minorities and women.
The unearthed tape of his comments can hardly help with female voters.
In a statement after the tape was revealed, Trump called his comments “locker room banter” and a “private conversation that took place many years ago.”
“Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close,” he said. “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
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