WASHINGTON — A surreal day in American politics ended with Donald Trump releasing a midnight video apologizing for vulgar comments about women that triggered disgust, condemnation and even the defection of some of his own Republican supporters.
The unmitigated debacle was prompted by a decade-old conversation captured on a live microphone. The eventual Republican nominee was overheard talking about forcibly grabbing women by their genitals; trying to seduce one married woman; and getting away with it because he’s famous.
“I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” Trump said in a video released after midnight. However, he added that Bill Clinton had done worse to women, and his wife Hillary had acted to silence or shame them.
“I’ve said some foolish things but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people.”
The audio was considered so devastating that some pundits immediately declared Trump’s campaign finished. A weekend appearance with party leader Paul Ryan was cancelled. And a few mused about whether this might force him to quit.
Several prominent Republicans withdrew their endorsement. One said that, as a husband and father, he can’t support him anymore.
“I’ve got to look them in my eye — and myself,” Utah lawmaker Jason Chaffetz told CNN. “I’m not going to be out there on the record anymore saying I endorse Donald Trump.”
Cable news went wall-to-wall with audio late Friday of the remarks, as networks waited to air his apology. It was his second statement of the day, following a written afternoon statement in which he apologized “if anyone was offended.” His Democratic opponent, Clinton, tweeted: “This is horrific. We cannot allow this man to become president.”
The crass comments overshadowed what, on a normal day, might have been damaging news for Clinton.
U.S. intelligence officials formally accused the Russian government of trying to influence the election. In a statement Friday, administration officials said Russian government-led hackers were responsible for stealing Democrats’ emails, in an apparent attempt to elect Trump.
The hackers struck again.
A batch of emails from Clinton’s campaign chair appeared Friday on the site Wikileaks. The more than 2,000 emails said to be from John Podesta featured prominent play from the Kremlin-backed news agency, Russia Today, which tweeted several times about the emails while ignoring the news about Trump.
One of the emails includes details about a source of intrigue this year: the speeches Clinton delivered to banks. Her former opponent Bernie Sanders hounded her during the primaries to release the transcripts of the speeches, delivered in 2013 and 2014.
The latest hacked emails include a summary of those speeches.
They show a candidate who speaks one way in public and another in private, when it comes to key policies. In fact, Clinton is described telling one group, the National Multi-Housing Council, that it’s important to emphasize different ideas in public and in private. Podesta posted a series of tweets Friday night, calling the disclosures a Russian hack and raising questions about whether some of the documents could have been altered.
One quote Trump could throw back at her involves trade.
In 2013, Clinton is quoted in the emails telling a Brazilian bank, Itau: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”
It’s a view she’d be loath to repeat nowadays on the stump. In the current race, there are tight races in states where globalized trade has hurt key industries, like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Clinton has spent the campaign expressing skepticism about deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, much to the annoyance of trade-liberalizers and to the skepticism of some progressives who view it as a campaign-time charade.
Now she’s facing an opponent proposing restrictions on trade and a wall at the border. Trump even repeated an implausible conspiracy theory on the subject Friday, suggesting migrants were being let in through the Mexican border to vote in the election.
It’s a safe bet Clinton won’t be discussing a hemispheric common market in Sunday’s debate, the second of the campaign. Polls show the vast majority of Americans believe she won the first debate, and her lead in surveys has grown.
It’s more likely she will refer to Trump’s comments about women.
In the never-before-aired recording, he tells an interviewer at Access Hollywood things like: “I did try and f— her. She was married.” He says he, “moved on her like a bitch” and then made a crass remark about the woman’s breast implants.
He asks for breath mints in case he reflexively kisses an actress he expects to see on the set. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful _ I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump says.
“And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
He added: “Grab them by the p—-. You can do anything.”
A poll this week already shows Trump losing among women by 22 percentage points. In New Hampshire, where she’s involved in a close race, Republican senator Kelly Ayotte says Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women were “totally inappropriate and offensive.”