Donald Trump, facing the biggest crisis of his campaign over the emergence of a recording in which he brags about his ability to sexually assault women, remained defiant on Saturday, telling The Wall Street Journal that there was “zero chance” he would quit the presidential race, and additionally telling the Washington Post that, “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.” Those comments have come in response to widespread outrage from GOP officials and politicians, many of whom are now saying they will not vote for Trump and are calling on him to drop out of the race and be replaced by vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, even though that doesn’t seem very feasible at this late stage in the campaign.
That exodus began on Friday evening, as the reality of Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood remarks was sinking in, and picked up pace on Saturday, when even John McCain ended up abandoning the Republican nominee. This was all in spite of Trump’s taped apology, released after midnight on Friday, in which he did sort of apologize for his boasting about groping women; however, he also called the story a “distraction” and insisted that Hillary and Bill Clinton are much worse than he is. Trump also assured the Journal that his family understands because “they’re very loyal,” and that he has been receiving “unbelievable support” from his base since the video came out. Trump thus expects the outrage to blow over as he thinks it has after his other horrifying comments. “People get it. They get life,” he added, about why voters will forgive him for saying that he could freely grab women by the genitals because he was famous.
Or, expressed in a more CAPS-LOCK way:
A growing list of GOP lawmakers don’t agree anymore. Kelly Ayotte, who is in a tight race to hold onto her Senate seat in New Hampshire, and who had taken fire earlier in the week for implying at a debate that Trump was a good role model for children, is now openly opposing him. She announced on Saturday that she’ll be writing in Pence’s name on Election Day, and that, “I wanted to be able to support my party’s nominee, chosen by the people, because I feel strongly that we need a change in direction for our country. However, I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.” (Nevertheless, the campaign for Ayotte’s Democratic opponent, Governor Maggie Hassan, has already put out an attack ad tying her to Trump’s comments.)
Arizona senator John McCain has never been fond of Trump, but the 2008 Republican presidential nominee had agreed to support him in the interests of party unity — at least until Saturday. After airing a number of grievances against Trump, McCain announced in a statement that Trump’s pro-groping remarks were the final straw, and that the senator was calling for Trump to drop out. McCain also announced that he and his wife, Cindy, will instead write in “the name of some good conservative Republican who is qualified to be President” on Election Day.
On Friday, Utah congressmember Jason Chaffetz also un-endorsed Trump, announcing that, “I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president,” though he didn’t say that Trump should quit the race. Utah senator Mike Lee did make that request, however:
It’s occurred to me on countless occasions today that if anyone spoke to my wife, my daughter, my mother or any of my five sisters the way Mr. Trump has spoken to women, I wouldn’t hire that person. I wouldn’t hire that person, wouldn’t want to be associated with that person, and, I certainly don’t think I would feel comfortable hiring that person to be the the leader of the free world.
GOP senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also withdrew her support on Saturday, insisting she “cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” and calling on Trump to “reexamine his candidacy.” Republican representative Martha Roby of Alabama tweeted on Saturday morning that she wants Trump gone, too:
Her fellow Alabaman, Rep. Bradley Byrne also ditched Trump on Saturday, as did Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, and Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Utah Rep. Mia Love, who had never endorsed Trump, confirmed on Saturday that she would not be voting for him either. Before that, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman said on Friday that, “For the good of the country, and to give the Republicans a chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump should step aside.” In Nevada, Rep. Cresent Hardy is out, and Rep. Joe Heck withdrew his support and asked that Trump step down at a rally in Las Vegas on Saturday, but that apparently didn’t go over so well with his supporters:
South Dakota’s John Thune — the number three Republican in the Senate — is also now off the Trump train and wants Pence to take his place, as does Idaho senator Mike Crapo, who cast blame on Trump’s “pattern of behavior” and “disrespectful, profane, and demeaning” comments toward women. Colorado senator Cory Gardner is out, too, as of Saturday afternoon, and Republican governors Dennis Daugaard, of South Dakota, and Gary Herbert, of Utah, are also done with the Donald. And Illinois senator Mark Kirk and Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, who had both long ago disavowed Trump, are now calling for his replacement as well.
More than 50 prominent, Republican elected officials were off the Trump bandwagon by Saturday evening:
Carly Fiorina, who had run against Trump in the GOP primaries, also called on Trump to step aside on Saturday, writing on Facebook that Trump “does not represent me or my party” and that he has “manifestly failed” in his responsibilities as a nominee. She was preceded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Rob Engstrom, who tweeted on Friday night that Trump was “fundamentally offensive and unqualified” and called on him to bow out. Trump can take Alex Smith, the chair of the national College Republicans, off his email list as well, since Smith also washed his hands of the candidate on Saturday, remarking that “the Party of Lincoln is not a locker room, and there is no place for people who think it is.”
Even Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host who has made his show a port in the storm for Trump in the past, is walking away from the candidate:
But not all Republicans are calling for Trump’s withdrawal just yet, though there has been near-unanimous rejection and outrage over his comments from pretty much everyone with a pulse and a Twitter account.
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, was reported to be “beside himself” on Friday after the Trump recording came out, but though he cancelled a Saturday appearance, he later released a statement maintaining his support for Trump:
As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the eleven-year-old video released yesterday. I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them. I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people. We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night.
Then again, this is just as likely to be true amidst such a crisis:
The event Pence was supposed to attend on Saturday was to be in Wisconsin and hosted by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who disinvited Trump from the event on Friday. Ryan also said on Friday that he was “sickened by what I heard” on the Trump recording and that he hoped, “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.” That Saturday Wisconsin event didn’t end up going over so well with Trump supporters, either.
Trump donors are apparently less-than-pleased as well. A prominent Trump bundler told CBS News on Saturday that he “could not tell you how many” calls he has received from ticked-off donors wanting their money back. Another report indicates that the RNC might be getting cold feet as well, since they suddenly paused part of a pro-Trump mailing campaign on Saturday.
So who else is still aboard the S.S. Trumptanic? Stalwarts Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, and Rudy Giuliani seem to still be defending the candidate, as are many of Trump’s backers in the Evangelical Christian community. On Friday, Hannity acknowledged on his Fox News show that “nobody is going to defend” Trump’s comments, but then worked to shift attention to Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and at one point even went biblical in joking that “King David had 500 concubines for crying out loud.” As for Giuliani? Well:
But while the suddenly default assumption by Republicans rejecting Trump is that he can be replaced with Pence, is that actually true? Politico reports that RNC lawyers are investigating it, but the odds look beyond long, especially if Trump doesn’t actually quit:
On Friday night, RNC chair Reince Priebus told an aggrieved state party chair that he realized a public dumping of Trump by the party would sink the nominee’s remaining chances. He said the committee would take 48 hours to reevaluate its election strategy, according to a Republican operative briefed on the conversation. The RNC saw the departure of two low-level field staffers in the states on Friday night and is expecting more, according to the operative.
Meanwhile, the RNC has lawyers examining the possibility of putting forth another nominee one month from Election Day, with ballots already printed and early voting in progress in some states, according to two other Republicans. “RNC has an army of lawyers right now looking at Rule 9 and ballot questions,” said one, a Republican strategist. The RNC’s Rule 9 pertains to filling vacant nominations.
But the lawyers have concluded that Trump would have to cooperate in any attempt to replace him, said another Republican in touch with the committee. “The fact remains that he can only be replaced if he quits or dies. And he’s declared today he’s not planning on doing either.”
Or maybe desperate Republicans can fantasize about this kind of extremely unlikely scenario:
The Washington Post puts its foot down and reports that the GOP is definitely stuck with Trump, pointing out that:
More than 34,000 Republican voters have already cast their ballots for the 2016 general election according to the U.S. Election Project, 8,000 of them in the battleground state of North Carolina and another 5,000 in Florida. Not all of those ballots were cast for Donald Trump, it’s safe to assume, but it’s more than likely that most of them were. And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s far too late for the Republican Party to dump Donald Trump from their ticket.
They go on to note that the GOP “could amend [Rule 9] to dump Trump, for example, but that would take a majority of the party’s Rules Committee and two-thirds of the entire party. This would be neither fast nor, necessarily, successful.” In addition, ballot deadlines have already passed in several key swing states, and good luck winning without them.
But if the GOP is stuck with Trump, are they necessarily stuck with Trump at the top of their ticket? Writing at Vox, constitutional-law professor Akhil Reed Amar argues that “there is one last chance for the Republican establishment to dump Trump: by flipping the ticket and putting the plodding, but at least plausible, Mike Pence in charge.” He says that such a move would not require a formal ballot change, but would require Trump to pledge that he would step aside after taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day, making Pence the president (unless Trump wants to reassert his rights to the office later on):
Even if Trump initially resists taking the pledge, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell can force Trump’s hand by threatening to retract their endorsements of him unless he pledges to flip. Pence himself could also threaten to quit, in advance of the election, unless Trump takes the deal. Their leverage only grows if the gap that opened this week between Clinton and Trump in the polls widens.
The Flip does not depend on Trump’s ongoing good faith. Once it is publicly announced and voters act in reliance on it, Pence can and must enforce the deal even if Trump later tries to back out.
All Pence needs to do post-inauguration, if Trump tries to weasel out, is to declare Trump disabled under another clause of the 25th Amendment — Section Four. So long as the Cabinet and the Congress back Pence in this power play, Pence prevails. The 25th Amendment does not specify all the possible and permissible reasons for declaring someone incapable of discharging his or her duties. It merely states that the Cabinet and Congress must concur that this is the case. And why shouldn’t they concur, given that this deal would have been blessed by voters on Election Day?
A bit far-fetched? Perhaps, but in this consistently insane election cycle, it’s certainly been proven that anything is possible again and again.
This post has been updated throughout to incorporate additional news and analysis.