“I’ve said and done things I regret,” Trump said. “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”
Trump’s campaign was sent reeling on Friday after a private tape was published in which the reality TV star bragged about groping, kissing and attempting to have sex with married women — and said he was entitled to do so because he’s a “star.”
The comments threaten to envelop, if not torpedo, his candidacy just days before his second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, as top Republicans from across the nation condemned him in the sharpest possible terms.
“I don’t even wait,” he boasts in the tape, as he talks about groping at women’s genitals.
“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says to Billy Bush of Access Hollywood in a clip from 2005 that was first published by the Washington Post late on Friday. “You can do anything.”
“Whatever you want,” an off-camera voice that appears to be Bush replies.
“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
The audio represents an extraordinary level of vulgarity — Democrats quickly condemned Trump for casually joking about sexual assault — even for a candidate who seized the Republican nomination through his proud embrace of political incorrectness.
“This is horrific,” Hillary Clinton said on Twitter. “We cannot allow this man to become president.”
In his midnight apology, the celebrity showman candidate tried to go on the attack previewing what could be one of the ugliest political episodes yet in 2016. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” Trump said.
“We will discuss this more in the coming days,” Trump said. “See you at the debate on Sunday.”
Earlier on Friday, Trump had reacted quickly and defensively, offering only a non-apology — “I apologize if anyone was offended.” Then too he had tried to shift the focus elsewhere. “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close,” Trump claimed.
The blowback from Republicans was delayed, but when it emerged, it was harsh.
Former presidential hopeful and former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush tweeted his thoughts on the controversial comments.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had been scheduled to appear alongside Trump on Saturday for the first time in Wisconsin, condemned Trump in a statement late Friday.
“I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified,” Ryan said. “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.”
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump must apologize for his “repugnant” comments.”
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz withdrew his endorsement of Trump on Friday night, one of the most concrete signs so far that Trump’s support is crumbling.
“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,” Chaffetz told Utah’s Fox 13 News.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee issued a curt statement: “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.”
Other conservatives went further. Rob Engstrom, the Chamber of Commerce’s national political director, on Friday night called on Trump to drop out of the race and allow his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to assume the top of the ticket.
“Trump should step down immediately tonight, yielding to Governor Pence as the GOP Nominee,” Engstrom tweeted.
But Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who still serves as a surrogate for the nominee, defended his ex-boss to CNN. “We’re electing a leader for the free world, not a Sunday schoolteacher,” he said.
The hot mic episode broke just over 48 hours before the next presidential debate and immediately sent political shockwaves across the nation.
In Ohio, the reporters covering Pence at a restaurant were immediately instructed to return to the press bus after the news broke and were not permitted to film him leaving the restaurant. Pence’s team insisted that was normal procedure.
In Las Vegas, Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, said the tape “makes me sick to my stomach.”
“I’m sad to say that I’m not surprised,” Kaine added.
Prominent Republicans went dark in the first hours after the tape leaks. “I won’t defend that!” texted one prominent Republican woman who has endorsed Trump. “I am so sad.”
In the tape, Trump, who was only recently married to Melania Trump at the time, says of an unknown woman, “I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it.”
“I did try and fuck her,” Trump added. “She was married.”
He said he moved on the woman “very heavily,” even taking her furniture shopping. “
I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”