NEW YORK (AP) — Republican leaders from Utah to Alabama called on Donald Trump to leave the presidential race as a party in crisis grappled with the fallout from its White House nominee’s vulgar and sexually charged comments caught on tape. Trump said Saturday he won’t quit — “never.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan and various other high-profile Republicans refused to abandon their nominee, who has long faced criticism from within his own party, but never to this degree. Frustration turned to panic across the GOP with early voting already underway in some states and Election Day one month away.
Trump “is obviously not going to win,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted Saturday morning. “But he can still make an honorable move: Step aside & let Mike Pence try.”
But Trump said Saturday he won’t yield the GOP nomination under any circumstances. “Zero chance I’ll quit,” he told The Wall Street Journal. He told The Washington Post: “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.” He claimed to have “tremendous support.”
In a videotaped midnight apology, Trump declared “I was wrong and I apologize” after being caught on tape bragging about aggressively groping women in 2005. He also defiantly dismissed the revelations as “nothing more than a distraction” from a decade ago and signaled he would press his presidential campaign by arguing that rival Hillary Clinton has committed greater sins against women.
“I’ve said some foolish things,” Trump said in a video posted on his Facebook page early Saturday. “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.”
Trump addressed what was arguably the most difficult day of his candidacy on Twitter later Saturday morning: “Certainly has been an interesting 24 hours!”
The latest explosive revelation marked a tipping point for some party loyalists, while forcing vulnerable Republican candidates to answer a painful question: Even if they condemn Trump’s vulgar comments, will they still vote for him?
Many Republican officials refused to answer their phones, while others canceled scheduled television interviews to avoid the subject altogether.
“It’s over,” said Republican strategist Terry Sullivan, who previously led Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “The only good news is that in 30 days Trump will be back to being just a former reality TV star like the Kardashians, and Republican candidates across America will no longer be asked to respond to his stupid remarks.”
Some Trump loyalists defiantly defended their nominee.
“I still have my Trump sign on my yard and everybody on my street does too,” said Pennsylvania GOP chairman Rob Gleason. “It’s business as usual, with door-knocking today.”
He went on: “I don’t agree with what was said — it’s not a good thing to be saying.” But he added: “campaigns are filled with lots of ups and downs.”
One by one, outraged GOP lawmakers have condemned Trump’s comments in a 2005 video obtained and released Friday by The Washington Post and NBC News. In the video, Trump is heard describing attempts to have sex with a married woman. He also brags about women letting him kiss and grab them because he is famous.
“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump says in the previously unaired comments. He adds seconds later: “Grab them by the p—-. You can do anything.”
Alabama Rep. Martha Roby said Saturday that Trump’s newly disclosed comments about women and how he treats them make him “unacceptable” for the office.
Trump should “step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket,” she said in a statement.
House Speaker Ryan said the day before that he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks. Ryan revoked an invitation for Trump to appear at a GOP event Saturday in Wisconsin. But Ryan did not pull his endorsement.
Meanwhile, Ryan fundraising chief Spencer Zwick said he’s been fielding calls from donors who “want help putting money together to fund a new person to be the GOP nominee.”
Zwick told The Associated Press that a write-in or “sticker campaign” relying on social media could “actually work.”
While there has never been a winning write-in campaign in a U.S. presidential contest, such an effort could make it harder for Trump to win. Zwick did not identify which “new person” might be the focus of a write-in campaign, although he was briefly supportive of a third run for Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, last year.
While funding another candidate could siphon votes away from Trump, the GOP’s biggest donors have little leverage even if they threaten to withhold money for the rest of the campaign. Trump’s campaign has relied far more on small contributors across the country – giving a few bucks here and there, mostly online — than from the party’s stalwart donors who write the biggest checks possible.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee, like Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, said Trump had finally gone too far.
“You, sir, are the distraction,” Lee said in a video posted to his Facebook page after Trump’s apology. “Your conduct, sir, is the distraction.”
Lee called on Trump to abandon his campaign, saying it was time for the Republican Party to “expect more. There is no need for us to settle.”
Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Julie Bykowicz in Washington and Julie Pace in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report. Follow Steve Peoples and Jonathan Lemire on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/sppeoples and http://twitter.com/colvinj