Note: This story contends lewd language that may be offensive to some readers.
Donald Trump reeled Friday under revelations of shockingly crude comments he made about women, dangerously undermining the Republican’s latest attempts to steady a presidential bid at risk of imploding.
Trump tried to head off some of the damage by issuing a statement apologizing “if anyone was offended” by vulgar remarks captured on a 2005 tape and made public Friday. Late Friday night, Trump released a taped video statement to say: “I said it. I was wrong, and I apologize.”
In the recording that ignited the controversy, obtained by The Washington Post and NBC News, Trump describes trying to have sex with a married woman and brags about women letting him kiss and grab them because he is famous.
The Washington Post first published the video from 2005, featuring Trump boasting to TV personality Billy Bush, a host of NBC’s Today show, about a woman that he had “moved on,” but “failed.”
“I did try and f--- her,” he said on the tape. “She was married.”
“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” he said. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony [breasts] and everything.”
Later in the conversation he bragged that he automatically began kissing beautiful women and didn’t hesitate to grope them.
“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab them by the p----. You can do anything,” he said.
The revelation had analysts and political operatives on all sides asking: Could this be it?
Donald Trump has insulted a war hero, criticized the family of a fallen soldier, mocked a disabled reporter and remained in the game. But the appearance Friday of a video in which he brags crudely about making sexual advances to a married woman is raising questions once again: Has Trump gone too far? And could this be the one that sinks his presidential bid?
Possibly not, some analysts suggested, given the Republican presidential nominee’s already well-documented history of making remarks critical of women.
“The point is, it doesn’t change anybody’s pre-existing opinion of him,” said Katie Packer, a Republican strategist and longtime Trump opponent who served as deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run.
“Though hearing it in such a graphic way,” she added, “It’s startling.”
Packer predicts that the release of the video could be the first of more embarrassing Trump moments to come: “I do think this is the beginning of a monthlong opposition dump,” she said. “There are probably a lot of hot mic moments.”
Many Republicans were silent as the tape was played on TV. But the video earned Trump one of the harshest rebukes yet from Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus, who said in a terse statement: “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.”
Preibus was scheduled to appear Saturday in Wisconsin with Trump, but late Friday the candidate said he would instead spend Saturday in New York preparing for Sunday night’s debate. House Speaker Paul Ryan was also scheduled to be there, but he announced in a statement late Friday that he decided to back out and said he was “sickened” by the remarks.
Jeb Bush, one of the more than a dozen foes Trump beat in the Republican presidential primary, was quick to speak out, declaring on Twitter: “As the grandfather of two precious girls, I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump’s reprehensible comments degrading women.”
Another unsuccessful GOP candidate, John Kasich, tweeted, “Make no mistake the comments were wrong and offensive. They are indefinsible.”
John Weaver, a Texas-based political consultant who worked for Kasich, took it a step farther and said on Twitter that the GOP ticket needs to be dumped. “The ticket should resign & be replaced by people with clean hands. Time to heal this country & get about enacting real reform for USA,” he wrote.
Republicans in tough re-election bids sought to distance themselves from the controversy.
“The comments are inappropriate and completely unacceptable,” North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said in a statement to McClatchy, the parent company of the Star-Telegram.
‘Locker room banter’
Trump’s former campaign manager told CNN that the remarks were not “defensible,” but noted it was a private conversation. “We’re electing a leader for the free world, not a Sunday school teacher,” Corey Lewandowksi said.
The episode also provided Democrats with one of their biggest openings yet, which they began to exploit with a fundraising emails and attempts to tie vulnerable Senate Republicans to Trump. It also overshadowed the WikiLeaks release of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Obama administration’s declaration that Russia was behind the computer hack of the Democratic National Committee that produce those emails.
Trump said Friday that he was sorry if his language had offended anyone.
He called it “locker room banter, a private conversation” that took place years ago. Trump would have been about 60 at the time.
“Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close,” he said in a statement released by his campaign. “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
In the video released late Friday night, Trump said he’s grown and learned as he campaigns and gets to know more Americans who trust in him. “I pledge to be a better man tomorrow ... Let’s be honest, we’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today.”
He went on to say that in the recording he may have said “foolish things,” but Bill Clinton “has actually abused women and Hillary has bulleyed, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
The tape could prove lethal to Trump’s attempt to court women voters, who already prefer Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by a two to one margin. Trump has employed his daughter, Ivanka, on the campaign trail and embraced family-friendly policies like child care and paid leave.
Clinton and her supporters moved quickly to seize on what they see as an opportunity to tear into Trump going into Sunday night’s prime-time debate.
“This is horrific,” Clinton said in a tweet. “We cannot allow this man to become president.”
Bill Clinton’s past
Friday was hardly the first time Trump brought up the behavior of Bill Clinton when facing criticism about his own actions. Trump has repeatedly mentioned and posted audio from past media interviews with women who have accused the former president of sexual assault and rape, and has posted photos of him chomping a cigar, a reference to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Trump at one time indicated that he was likely to bring up Clinton’s affairs in Sunday night’s debate, but more recently has said he won’t discuss it.
Bill Clinton has long been dogged by allegations of womanizing, extramarital affairs and abuse. During his 1992 campaign, Betsey Wright, a longtime aide to the Clintons, dubbed the problems “bimbo eruptions,” a label that appeared aimed at discrediting them.
But the most damaging episode was his relationship with Lewinsky, with cigars more than once having a role in their sexual activity. The two met in 1995 when she was a 22-year-old intern. She later revealed that they had a series of sexual encounters over a roughly 18-month period. Clinton initially denied the relationship, but eventually admitted it and said he “misled people, including even my wife.”
The president was impeached over the episode, accused of obstruction and perjury, but was acquitted by the Senate.
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram Washington Bureau and The Associated Press.