Republican officeholders join groundswell to disavow Trump

In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump rejected demands by a growing number of fellow Republicans that he step aside.

By Melanie Mason and David Lauter

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republican elected officials, who had stuck by Donald Trump through months of controversy, began to flee his campaign Saturday even as the embattled Republican nominee vowed not to quit the presidential race.

One day after a video became public in which Trump could be heard boasting that he could grope women because “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” his campaign appeared on the verge of melting down.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump rejected demands by a growing number of fellow Republicans that he step aside.

“I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life,” he said.

“No, I’m not quitting this race. I have tremendous support,” he said.

Trump struck a similar note in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying there was “zero chance” he would quit.

But throughout the day, the list of Republicans rescinding their support for Trump grew as party officials tried to prevent what they see as a now-inevitable collapse at the top of the ticket from destroying their chances of retaining control of the House and Senate.

Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said Saturday he “cannot defend” Trump’s comments about women.

“As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the 11-year-old video,” said Pence, who reportedly was also skipping a campaign stop in Wisconsin where he was to fill in for Trump alongside House Speaker Paul Ryan. “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, locked in a close battle for re-election in New Hampshire, issued a statement saying she would no longer vote for Trump and would, instead, write in Pence.

“I cannot and will not support a candidate who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” she wrote.

Less than a week ago, in a televised debate, Ayotte had said that Trump could be a “role model” — a remark that she tried to take back the next day, but which her Democratic opponent had already used in an attack ad.

A few hours after Ayotte released her statement Saturday, Republican Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, who is also in a closely contested race, said at a rally in Las Vegas that he, too, would not support Trump.

“I can no longer look past the pattern of behavior and comments that have been made by Donald Trump,” he said. “Therefore, I cannot in good conscience continue to support Donald Trump.”

Heck’s statement drew some boos from the crowd, an indication of the potential trouble that Republicans running for office may face as they try to distance themselves from the party’s nominee without alienating voters who still support him.

John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Sen. Mike Crapo, from reliably Republican Idaho, called for Trump to step down from the ticket. So did Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, whose statement early Saturday appeared to trigger a growing number of others.

And Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard who briefly sought the Republican nomination, said Pence should replace Trump at the top of the ticket.