With four weeks until Election Day, is the race ostensibly over?
After a weekend of defending Donald Trump’s salacious recorded remarks as “locker room talk,” the RNC and the campaign itself face a week of messaging gymnastics aimed at salvaging the GOP nominee’s electability.
Many are calling for Trump to withdraw after the release of a 2005 video featuring Trump and NBC broadcaster Billy Bush, then co-host of “Access Hollywood.”
The burgeoning revolt comes after the Washington Post published a 2005 video clip in which Trump brags about groping women without their consent. “Grab them by the [p**sy],” he is heard saying at one point. “You can do anything.” Trump has weathered no shortage of scandals over the past 15 months of his presidential run, but his recorded descriptions of what amounts to sexual assault are prompting Republican legislators and governors to forcefully denounce him and demand he withdraw from the race.
Trump quickly issued the following statement:
Here is my statement. pic.twitter.com/WAZiGoQqMQ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2016
Trump’s camp stuck with its message before and during Sunday’s debate, which some have dubbed “the nastiest in history.”
The nominee also vowed that he would not drop out of the presidential race:
The media and establishment want me out of the race so badly – I WILL NEVER DROP OUT OF THE RACE, WILL NEVER LET MY SUPPORTERS DOWN! #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2016
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2016
Trump attempted to redirect criticism with a pre-debate press conference that he aired on Facebook Live:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2016
Shortly before the second presidential debate on Sunday night, Republican candidate Donald Trump broadcast an unusual presser on Facebook Live, the social network’s live video streaming service.
Trump appeared alongside three women who alleged that Bill Clinton, former president and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s husband, had sexually harassed or assaulted them: Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, and Kathleen Willey. A fourth woman, Kathy Shelton, argued that Hillary Clinton had damaged her reputation in the ’70s when the presidential hopeful, then an attorney, defended a man who Shelton said had raped her.
Twitter users responded to the move with tweets such as the following:
Chilling to see desperation Trump feels by pulling together Bill Clinton accusers pre-debate. Once attacked these very women himself.
— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) October 9, 2016
After this stunt @realDonaldTrump is more disgusting and shameless than I thought. Wow. So sad and desperate
— Reshma Saujani (@reshmasaujani) October 9, 2016
During the debate, when moderator Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on the contents of the tape, Trump said:
This was locker-room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologized to my family, I apologized to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it, but this is locker-room talk.
You know, when we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads, where you have, frankly, drowning people in steel cages—where you have wars and horrible, horrible sights all over—where you have so many bad things happening, this is like medieval times. We haven’t seen anything like this—the carnage all over the world.
And they look and they see it. Can you imagine the people that are, frankly, doing so well against us with ISIS and then look at our country and see what’s going on?
Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it—I hate it—but it’s locker-room talk, and it’s one of those things.
Vox also reported the following interchange between a reporter and Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway:
After the debate, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Conway what she thought about Trump’s response to Cooper, in which he doubled down on saying that the exchange on the tapes were just “locker room talk.”
“The term ‘locker room talk,'” Bash said to Conway. “You had the highest-ranking woman in Congress — Republican woman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers — blowing that off, and saying, ‘No, no, no, this is suggesting sexual assault.'”
“That’s a very unfortunate phrase, and people really should stop using it,” Conway said.
“Why?” Bash said.
“Because I know him better, and I know better,” Conway said.
“But it’s what he said,” Bash said.
“He did not say the word ‘sexual assault,'” Conway said.
RNC scrambles to respond
Though Trump seems satisfied with his mea culpa, the Republican National Committee and many GOP leaders do not.
In the wake of the tape’s release, many swiftly issued statements and distanced themselves from the situation.
The party’s backing away from its nominee began really more as a sprint away Friday night. Within hours of the leaked audio’s publication, GOP boss Reince Priebus, House Speaker Paul Ryan, 2008 nominee John McCain, 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and others had released statements denouncing Trump. The statements have ranged from condemnations of the language itself to full-blown renouncements of the candidate; Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for Senate in Nevada, andSouth Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of Senate leadership, all revoked their support for Trump on Saturday and urged him to drop out. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan also revoked support, explicitly saying he doesn’t think Trump can “lead by example” on ending domestic violence and sexual assault.
On Saturday, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, issued the following statement:
My statement below: pic.twitter.com/92VYEAxIcl
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) October 8, 2016
After the debate, Pence tweeted:
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) October 10, 2016
Though Pence is standing by Trump, the RNC might not be.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Saturday told party officials to redirect funds away from nominee Donald Trump to down-ballot candidates, according to an official informed of the decision. In practical terms, the party will be working to mobilize voters who support GOP House and Senate candidates regardless of their position on the presidential race.
RNC’s former chairman, Michael Steele, tweeted the following:
— Michael Steele (@MichaelSteele) October 10, 2016
The committee plans to host a call Monday evening to determine its next course of action.
The call, which is to start at 5 pm ET and is slated to last 30 minutes, does not have a set agenda. But it comes amid swirling speculation surrounding whether the RNC will divert resources from Trump to down-ballot candidates. Many RNC members have expressed profound unease with Trump following the release of a bombshell 2005 tape showing him bragging about sexually assaulting women.
NBC disciplines Bush
Trump is not the only one dealing with a fallout from the taped conversation.
On Friday evening, Bush issued the following statement:
Obviously I’m embarrassed and ashamed. It’s no excuse, but this happened 11 years ago — I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along.
CNN Money reported that on Sunday afternoon, NBC execs decided to pull Bush from the air—and then quickly extended that punishment:
A couple of hours later, the executive in charge of “Today,” Noah Oppenheim, said in an internal memo that the executives had decided to go even further and suspend Bush.
“I know we’ve all been deeply troubled by the revelations of the past 48 hours,” Oppenheim wrote.
“Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy’s language and behavior on that tape,” he wrote. “NBC has decided to suspend Billy, pending further review of this matter.”
Though there has been no word on how long the suspension will last, some say Bush will not return:
How long will Billy Bush be off the air? Right now, NBC does not seem to know. Key @TodayShow personnel are predicting he’ll never be back.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) October 9, 2016