Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed on Saturday to remain in the race after prominent members of his party withdrew their support and called for him to drop out following news of a recording of him making lewd comments about women.
Trump sought to do damage control early on Saturday morning in a hastily recorded apology, declaring himself a changed man and attempting to shift the focus to his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump threatened, again, to focus his attacks on the infidelities of former President Bill Clinton, saying he would talk more about the pasts of both Clintons in coming day. Trump has dismissed questions about his own martial infidelities as irrelevant.
Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Saturday morning “zero chance I’ll quit.”
Three Republican members of the Senate publicly announced they will not vote for Trump and former rival Carly Fiorina called on him to withdraw.
There is no precedent for a major party to replace their nominee this late in the campaign and it remains unclear if there is an avenue to force him from the race. Voting has already begun in several states, including the important swing states of Virginia and North Carolina.
Disclosure of a 2005 video of Trump talking on an open microphone showed the then-reality TV star speaking openly about groping women and trying to seduce a married woman. The video was taped months after Trump married his third wife, Melania.
Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning, seeming to make light of the controversy by posting on the online social media website “Certainly has been an interesting 24 hours!”
Trump has struggled to win over women voters, lagging Clinton in the polls. Democrats have sought to highlight past Trump behavior toward women in an effort to erode his support with less than a month to go until the Nov. 8 election.
“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” Trump said in his video statement, posted on his Facebook page.
The video overshadowed the publication of excerpts of Clinton’s closed-door paid speeches that were made public on Friday by a hacker who claimed to have obtained them from the email account of John Podesta, the chairman of the Democrat’s campaign. In the speeches, Clinton advocates for more open borders and trade, a position she abandoned during the primary because it was politically untenable to Democratic progressives. Likewise, Trump has repeatedly criticized her for past support of free trade.
The video landed just ahead of the second presidential debate on Sunday night, which had been seen as critical for Trump to try to rebound from a dip in some opinion polls after a rocky performance in the first debate.
Trump’s comments aired in a near-constant loop on U.S. news programs on Friday.
“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump said about one woman, before discussing his attraction to others.
“I just start kissing them,” he said. “And when you’re a star they let you do it.”
“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything,” Trump said.
The video opened deep divisions within the Republican Party about how to respond, with a stream of Republican leaders condemning the remarks and some withdrawing their support for Trump.
U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who has been one of Clinton’s fiercest critics, said he had retracted his endorsement of Trump, telling CNN he would not be able to look his 15-year-old daughter in the eye if he voted for Trump.
Martha Roby, a Republican member of Congress from the conservative state of Alabama, announced she would not be voting for Trump.
“Donald Trump’s behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president, and I won’t vote for him,” she said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton must not be president, but, with Trump leading the ticket, she will be.”
Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter he would also no longer vote for Trump. “Tonight, millions of Republicans are facing a moment of truth,” Herbert said.
Republican lawmaker Mike Coffman from Colorado told CBS that Trump should “step aside” and said “his defeat at this point seems almost certain.”
Other prominent Republicans indicated they would stick with their support of Trump. Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, both told news outlets they will continue to support Trump.
Conservatives point to the fact that the winner of the November election will get to appoint a Supreme Court justice as reason to stick with Trump despite the controversial video. Greg Mueller, a conservative Republican strategist, pointed to Clinton’s views on abortion as a reason religious voters will stick with Trump.
“Nothing indefensible that Donald Trump said 20 years ago is going to change that,” he said. “Plus, to many religious voters, Mrs. Clinton is the epitome of a corrupt politician.”
Representative Jack Kingston, a Republican from Georgia, argued that Trump has changed in the decade since the video was filmed.
“I think 10 years ago he was a different man than he is today, I am very glad that he quickly apologized,” Kingston said.
Trump, known for his unconventional and controversial speaking style, has made a series of gaffes in his campaign but the graphic nature of the clip would hurt his standing among women, independents, and wavering Republicans, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
“We’ve never seen something like this Trump clip in a modern presidential campaign,” Yepsen said, calling the incident “sad for the American political system” and for Trump’s supporters.
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said “this feels like it is quickly becoming a political ‘game over'” for Trump.
“Unless voters don’t care about these issues or believe that this is simply political dirty tricks by releasing the videos now, Trump is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat in order to turn things around,” Bonjean said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Emily Flitter in New York, Ayesha Rascoe in Chicago, Steve Holland, Eric Beech and Mohammed Zargham in Washington; Writing by Ginger Gibson, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Paul Tait and James Dalgleish)