Trump’s dark past sends Republican Party into tailspin

Republicans call on nominee to step aside but no rules to replace billionaire by force

Donald Trump seemed defiantly and strategically oblivious to the growing prairie fire that engulfed him and his campaign over the weekend resulting from his taped boasts about sexually assaulting women.

For a party already divided by his polarising campaign and incendiary rhetoric, the 2005 leaked tape recording of the businessman boasting about how he “moved” on a married woman “like a bitch” and how as “a star” he could “do anything” to women – including “grab them by the pussy” – was too much.

Within hours of the bombshell tape landing on the Washington Post's website on Friday, Republicans were lining up to condemn the party's presidential nominee in the strongest terms.

The highest-ranking elected Republican, House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan, cancelled a campaign event scheduled in his home state of Wisconsin with Mr Trump for Saturday. Still, Ryan, Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnel and the Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus continued to support his candidacy.


Out west, in conservative Utah, Republicans went further. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, became the first congressional Republican to withdraw his endorsement of Mr Trump, telling a local TV station on Friday night "I'm out".

He joined Utah’s governor Gary Herbert, the first sitting Republican governor to withdraw his support, in declaring they could not vote for Mr Trump.

Others went further. Illinois Republican Mark Kirk, who rescinded his endorsement of Mr Trump in June, tweeted that the businessman should drop out and the party "engage rules for emergency replacement".


Some of the strongest denunciations came from senators locked in tough re-election battles such as Kirk and Kelly Ayotte of

New Hampshire

. By Saturday afternoon more than two dozen Republicans had called on Mr Trump to withdraw. Some pushed for Mr Trump’s vice-presidential running mate

Mike Pence

to move to the top of the ticket.

Mr Trump later called his growing number of critics “self-righteous hypocrites” who would “go down” in the election, saying that he had “tremendous support (except for some Republican ‘leadership’)”.

It took Mr Pence almost 21 hours after the tape had leaked to issue a statement. He described himself as being “offended by the words and actions” of his running mate but sought to draw a line under the controversy by pointing to Mr Trump’s apology.

“I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them,” said Mr Pence.

Even Mr Trump’s wife Melania said “the words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me”.

The Republican nominee himself maintained a stubborn defence. He offered qualified, insincere apologies, in both his initial short written statement on Friday dismissing his past remarks as “locker room banter” and in his video statement in the early hours of Saturday brushing off the controversy as a “distraction”.

His statements turned from a rare contrite Trump to the belligerent Trump of old, as he accused Bill Clinton of far more egregious behaviour in the past.

The Republican candidate then went on the offensive, telling the Wall Street Journal on Saturday there was "zero chance I'll quit".

Two-finger salute

He even made an impromptu appearance, akin to a two-finger salute, outside Trump Tower on Saturday afternoon to supporters chants of “USA! USA!” – the same supporters who love how he has stuck it to the Republican establishment.

Mr Trump's most senior advisers cancelled their Sunday talk show appearances leaving the circuit to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as preparations continued for last night's second presidential debate. "Men at times talk like that," Mr Giuliani told CNN.

For other Republicans wanting to see the back of Mr Trump over a historic tumultuous weekend for the party, this may be wishful thinking. There are Republican Party rules to substitute of a candidate if a nominee dies or declines the nomination but nothing that would allow the party to topple him.

“At this stage, Donald Trump would have to resign,” Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg told US radio station NPR over the weekend.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times