Dam­aged but defiant, Trump limps to­ward de­bate with Clin­ton

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Dam­aged but defiant, Don­ald Trump is limp­ing to­ward a crit­i­cal pres­i­den­tial de­bate against Hil­lary Clin­ton ab­sent the back­ing of a grow­ing group of Repub­li­can lead­ers. Trump in­sists he will “never” aban­don his White House bid de­spite calls for him to step aside af­ter his vul­gar de­scrip­tions of sex­ual ad­vances on women were re­vealed.

Trump’s task in Sun­day’s face­off is enor­mous, and per­haps in­sur­mount­able. Even be­fore the record­ing of his re­marks were made pub­lic, the busi­ness­man was lag­ging be­hind Clin­ton af­ter an undis­ci­plined first de­bate and strug­gling to over­come deep skep­ti­cism among women about his tem­per­a­ment and qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be com­man­der in chief.

Ohio Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Matt Borges said that for Trump, “The de­bate is now ev­ery­thing.”

Trump has hinted he may turn the de­bate into a ref­er­en­dum on Clin­ton’s mar­riage, namely her hus­band’s ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs and her treat­ment of the women who were in­volved. In what was billed as a video­taped apol­ogy for his ac­tions, Trump said “Bill Clin­ton has ac­tu­ally abused women” and Hil­lary Clin­ton “bul­lied, at­tacked, shamed and in­tim­i­dated” her hus­band’s “vic­tims.”

Out­side Trump’s small cadre of ad­vis­ers, sup­port for the busi­ness­man was scarce fol­low­ing Fri­day’s re­lease of the 2005 video­tape in which he can be heard de­tail­ing his at­tempts to have sex with a mar­ried woman. In an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­buke, Trump’s own run­ning mate, In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence, declared he could nei­ther con­done nor de­fend the re­marks.

“We pray for his fam­ily,” Pence said in a state­ment af­ter can­cel­ing a Wis­con­sin ap­pear­ance sched­uled with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee chair­man, Reince Priebus, both of whom had con­demned Trump’s re­marks but stopped short of with­draw­ing sup­port al­to­gether.

Sev­eral other Repub­li­cans did take the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of re­vok­ing sup­port for their party’s nom­i­nee one month from Elec­tion Day and with early vot­ing al­ready un­der­way in some key states.

Among them: Ohio Sen. Rob Port­man, New Hamp­shire Sen. Kelly Ay­otte — both are run­ning for re-elec­tion — and the party’s 2008 nom­i­nee, Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, who had stood by Trump even af­ter the bil­lion­aire ques­tioned whether the former POW should be con­sid­ered a war hero be­cause he got “cap­tured.”

McCain, who is also fac­ing a chal­lenge in Novem­ber, said Trump’s be­hav­ior made it “im­pos­si­ble to con­tinue to of­fer even conditional sup­port for his can­di­dacy.”

Many went fur­ther and called on Trump to quit the race al­to­gether.

“I thought sup­port­ing the nom­i­nee was the best thing for our coun­try and our party,” Alabama Rep. Martha Roby said in a state­ment. “Now, it is abun­dantly clear that the best thing for our coun­try and our party is for Trump to step aside and al­low a re­spon­si­ble, re­spectable Repub­li­can to lead the ticket.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers have sched­uled a Mon­day morn­ing con­fer­ence call for House GOP law­mak­ers, who are out of town

for Congress’ elec­tion re­cess. The email ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press doesn’t spec­ify the topic for the 11 a.m. EDT call, but rank-and­file law­mak­ers be­lieve it’s about Trump. Such calls are rare and usu­ally held to dis­cuss im­por­tant mat­ters.

Trump, who spent Satur­day hun­kered down in his New York sky­scraper, tweeted that he would not yield the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion un­der any cir­cum­stances: “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!”

In­deed, many Trump vot­ers re­mained loyal to the po­lit­i­cal out­sider. Wis­con­sin voter Jean Stan­ley donned a shirt pro­claim­ing “Wis­con­sin Women Love Trump” and called Ryan a “traitor” for de­nounc­ing the pres­i­den­tial con­tender’s re­marks.

“He’s a real human,” Stan­ley said of the New York busi­ness­man, sur­rounded by Trump sup­port­ers at the Wis­con­sin rally where he was set to ap­pear be­fore the video­tape emerged.

The po­lit­i­cal firestorm was sparked by a 2005 video ob­tained and re­leased Fri­day by The Wash­ing­ton Post and NBC News. In the video, Trump, who was mar­ried to his cur­rent wife at the time, is heard de­scrib­ing at­tempts to have sex with a mar­ried woman. He also brags about women let­ting him kiss them and grab their gen­i­tals be­cause he is fa­mous.

“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do any­thing,” Trump says in the video. He adds sec­onds later: “Grab them by the p---. You can do any­thing.” He said of his im­pulse to kiss beau­ti­ful women: “I don’t even wait.”

While still pub­licly back­ing Trump, the Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee is con­sid­er­ing how to move for­ward.

One pos­si­bil­ity: re-di­rect­ing its ex­pan­sive po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tion away from Trump and to­ward help­ing vul­ner­a­ble Se­nate and House can­di­dates. Such a move would leave Trump with vir­tu­ally no po­lit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture in swing states to iden­tify his sup­port­ers and en­sure they vote.

“We are work­ing to eval­u­ate the ap­pro­pri­ate mes­sag­ing go­ing for­ward,” said RNC chief strate­gist Sean Spicer.

Elec­tion law ex­perts sug­gest it would be lo­gis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to re­place Trump on the bal­lot al­to­gether, with early vot­ing un­der­way in some states and over­seas bal­lots al­ready dis­trib­uted to mil­i­tary ser­vice­men and others.

Ryan fundrais­ing chief Spencer Zwick, how­ever, said he’s been field­ing calls from donors who “want help putting money to­gether to fund a new per­son to be the GOP nom­i­nee.”

Zwick told the AP that a write-in or “sticker cam­paign” re­ly­ing on so­cial me­dia could “ac­tu­ally work.” While there has never been a win­ning write-in cam­paign in a U.S. pres­i­den­tial con­test, such an ef­fort could make it harder for Trump to win.

The re­lease of the record­ing and en­su­ing back­lash al­most com­pletely over­shad­owed the re­lease of hacked emails from in­side the Clin­ton cam­paign that re­vealed the con­tents of some of her pre­vi­ously se­cret paid speeches to Wall Street.

Pho­to­graph: AP

Com­peti­tors start the swim­ming por­tion of the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship Triathlon, in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

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