With Friday afternoon providing the American public not one but two "October surprises", when at almost exactly the same time Wikileaks revealed the bulk of Hillary Clinton's sensitive speeches to Wall Street while WaPo exposed a tape in which Donald Trump made obscene sexual remarks in 2005 in a private setting (both of which took place shortly after the US formally accused Russia of hacking Democratic servers and subverting the US political process) the media has gravitated toward the latter as the source of far greater indignation, and as a result Trump issued a midnight statement, apologizing for his lewd remarks.
Here is my statement. pic.twitter.com/WAZiGoQqMQ— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2016
The apology came less than 48 hours before Trump and Clinton are scheduled to meet in the second presidential debate, and as Trump found himself under intense pressure from GOP leaders, amid an unprecedented outpouring of anger from conservatives, some of whom are demanding he pull out of the race entirely.
In a rare moment of contrition for the famously unapologetic businessman, facing a media firestorm, his video statement, released at 12:09 a.m. on Saturday, was the first step for Trump if he’s going to turn his campaign around. In it, he vowed to “be a better man tomorrow.”
“I've never said I'm a perfect person or pretended to be someone that I'm not,” Trump said. “I've said and done things that I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me know these words don't reflect who I am--I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”
However, while taking responsibility for his words, Trump also dismissed the controversy as a “distraction” and sought to turn the damaging revelations about his own personal life against Clinton.
Trump said he would go on the attack against Clinton for her treatment of the women who have had affairs with Bill Clinton or have accused him of sexual assault; something Republicans have warned him not to do.
“I've said some foolish things, but there is 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. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
His full text is below:
I've never said I'm a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I'm not. I've said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. I've traveled the country talking about change for America. But my travels have also changed me. I've spent time with grieving mothers who've lost their children, laid-off workers whose jobs have gone to other countries, and people from all walks of life who just want a better future. I have gotten to know the great people of our country, and I've been humbled by the faith they've placed in me. I pledge to be a better man tomorrow, and will never, ever let you down.
Let's be honest: we're living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we're facing today. We are losing our jobs, we're less safe than we were eight years ago, and Washington is totally broken. Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. 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. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.
According to the Hill, "It was a bizarre and provocative ending to a pressure-packed eight-hour period that may represent the defining moment of the campaign" and came at a time when questions were rising whether the national party is considering cutting Trump loose, although the Republican National Committee denied that speculation on Friday.
While it is unclear if Trump's statement will hurt his standing among his core constituency, it is likely to further damage Trump’s standing among women and independent voters.
Prior to Trump's statement, the fallout - especially on the left - had been "volcanic" with Democrats casting Trump’s remarks as “predatory" while republicans were already concerned about Democratic plans to link their candidates to Trump, fearing it could lead to House and Senate defeats.
Those fears were soaring on Friday night.
Making matters worse for Trump, top Republican leaders from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on released furious statements demanding that Trump issue a full apology.
Having recently endorsed him, Trump’s former primary rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), turned up heat on the nominee, characterizing his remarks as beyond the pale. Cruz’s top ally on Capitol Hill, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), called on Trump to drop out.??
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) backed out of their first planned joint appearance, a Saturday event in the battleground state of Wisconsin that was meant as a show of unity. Ryan said he was “sickened” by what he heard from Trump.
“I am sickened by what I heard today,” Ryan said in a statement released Friday night. “Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. 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. In the meantime, he is no longer attending tomorrow’s event in Wisconsin.”
Others who have expressed outrage but without escalating demand for Trump to step aside or pull support include Scott Walker:
Inexcusable. Trump's comments are inexcusable.— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) October 8, 2016
And Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump after the primary:
Donald's comments were vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 8, 2016
No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private.
As the fallout builds, some republicans are already withdrawing their support from Trump. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, led the way went on his local news channel to retract his endorsement of Trump.?? “I’m out,” Chaffetz said.??
Here's video of Chaffetz withdrawing his endorsement. "I'm out." pic.twitter.com/U6ernQfl9o— Tim Hanrahan (@TimJHanrahan) October 8, 2016
The congressman made the statement during a live interview with Fox 13 in Salt Lake City. “I’m out. I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine," he said.
"He's put the party and this country in an awful place ... I get the sense this probably isn't the end of them. There might be more."
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who just last week confirmed he would vote for Trump, appears to have also pulled his support.
"In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom — at such a critical moment for our nation — and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket," Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Per the WaPo, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) had withdrawn her support: "I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump."
Meanwhile, some of Trump’s Republican critics, including vulnerable GOP Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), are demanding that Trump leave the ticket and allow running mate Mike Pence to take the lead. The furor stirred rampant speculation that Republicans abandon Trump to focus on protecting majorities in the House and Senate.
Former New York governor George Pataki, who run for president against Trump, likewise called for Trump to step down, saying "I'm horrified by #TrumpTape news. @realDonaldTrump campaign is a poisonous mix of bigotry & ignorance. Enough! He needs to step down."
However, Sean Spicer, the Republican National Committee’s chief strategist, sought to put those concerns to bed, denying reports of late-night meetings to replace the nominee.
At present, Trump has not been abandoned by party leaders, but his situation is precarious.
* * *
So as the media makes sure the public's attention is glued firmly to the unfolding Trump scandal, any and all attention from Hillary's Wall Street transcripts, in which she admitted to taking "private positions" in one setting, while espousing contradictory positions in public, aka, deception, will slide under the radar.
And while we now anticipate the Sunday debate to devolve to several hours of accusations of predatory, sexual behavior by both candidates in what will likely be the biggest mudslining lowlight in US presidential campaign history, the choice for America, as framed by social media is simple, while questions rise about why this tape emerged only now.
Trump is an oafish, brainless ass with no attention span. HRC is a conniving, chronic liar beloved by debased elites. Your choice, America!— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) October 8, 2016
One thing that irks about the outrage over Trump's tape: it's crude, gross, brutish. All true. Trump's a sleazy braggart and always has been— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) October 8, 2016
But so many of the people/pundits who'll be outraged about this for 5 days straight can't summon any outrage for war, corruption, deceit.— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) October 8, 2016
/1 Here's my issue - NBC knew back in '05 that Trump was a horrible misogynist (at best). But they put him on air cuz he got good ratings https://t.co/Z18Xm6EkP2— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) October 8, 2016
/2 What responsibility does NBC have for sitting on this Trump tape for 11 years??? Who at NBC knew about this & when?— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) October 8, 2016
/3 In '05, this kind of stuff was ok for NBC on-air personalities? This was just "boys being boys?"— John Bresnahan (@BresPolitico) October 8, 2016