Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted Saturday that he would "never drop out of the race" and said the media and "the establishment" were trying to thwart his candidacy with the release of a 2005 video recording of Trump making lewd remarks about women
"I said it. I was wrong and I apologize," Trump said in a video that was posted earlier Saturday on his Facebook page.
Trump video: Read transcript of conversation
The billionaire businessman said the highly publicized recording should be "nothing more than a distraction" during the remaining weeks of the campaign before November's U.S. election. He indicated he would refocus his arguments against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, by arguing that former President Bill Clinton, her husband, has committed far worse misdeeds against women.
"There's a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims," Trump said in his apology video.
Trump and Clinton are due to appear together Sunday in the second of three debates scheduled during the final weeks of the campaign.
Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics told VOA that the debate could provide a chance for Trump to repent fully and publicly for his remarks:
"I think Donald Trump, in particular, hasn't shown the ability to apologize. He really hasn't shown any public evidence that he can feel shamed, so I think this will be an opportunity to perhaps show that."
Trump's wife, Melania, said his words were "unacceptable and offensive," but that she hoped voters would accept his apology. Melania is Trump's third wife, to whom he was newly married at the time the 2005 video was recorded.
"This does not represent the man that I know," Melania Trump said. "He has the heart and mind of a leader."
Standing with women likely further damaged
Political experts and social scientists said they expected the outcry over the Trump video, which has dominated political discourse in the U.S. since it was disclosed Friday, would negatively affect his chances in the November 8 election.
Pollster and conservative political consultant Frank Luntz said: "This one will cause real damage."
Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor at Rutgers University-Camden and a scholar at the university’s Center for American Women and Politics, told VOA the video recording was "pattern behavior” that Trump has displayed in the past. However, Dittmar said this was a particularly egregious incident.
“It will be damaging with women, but many of those women already saw this [attitude] and were affected by his statements about women. I think you’re going to see more men after this also feel pressured and disinclined to support somebody who makes these sorts of statements against women,” Dittmar said.
In the video, Trump can be heard making bawdy remarks about groping women, and boasting of his ability to make sexual advances. "You can do anything" to women when you're famous, Trump said.
Public opinion surveys throughout the campaign have shown Trump is less popular among women, especially college-educated women. Rosalyn Cooperman, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and an expert on women in politics, told VOA that women in any demographic group would be "hard-pressed" to digest Trump's vulgar remarks, which were too graphic and profane for most U.S. news outlets to print or broadcast.
"In terms of demographics ... we know [women] are more reliable voters than their male counterparts," Cooperman said, meaning that they turn out in greater numbers than men, for the most part. "These types of comments are absolutely unhelpful, and that would perhaps be an understatement to the Republican nominee at this point."
"What has finally become apparent ... especially with such language that endorses sexual assaults, is the fact that [the Republican Party has] a white-married-women problem, and that's ultimately the demographic that they want to keep in their camp," Pennsylvania State University political science professor Mark Major told VOA.
Top Republicans 'sickened'
The real estate and gambling developer has received only grudging support from many in his party, and the lewd comments in the video pushed some party leaders to declare they will not vote for him.
Some say they will not vote for Clinton either, leaving prominent Republicans in the precarious position of not voting for a president or casting votes for third-party candidates who have virtually no chance of winning the race for the White House.
"I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump," his running mate, Mike Pence, said in a statement posted Saturday on Twitter, adding, "I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was "sickened" by Trump's remarks and revoked an invitation to Trump to attend an annual autumn festival Saturday in Wisconsin, Ryan's home state.
But at the event, some Trump supporters heckled Ryan, shouting, "You turned your back on us!"
Ryan tried to address what he called "the elephant in the room," and move on, saying, "I put out a statement about this last night. I meant what I said, and it's still how I feel. But that is not what we are here to talk about today.''
One Trump supporter at the festival, Julie Marso of Milwaukee, told The Associated Press, "You should vote according to the issues facing this country, not the kind of dirt you can dig up on people."
Reince Priebus, the national Republican Party leader, said of Trump's comments: "No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner, ever."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, "These comments are repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance. ... I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also called on Trump to issue a "full and unqualified apology."
Utah Senator Mike Lee called on Trump to drop out of the race, calling him a "distraction from the important issues we're facing today."
Senator Mark Kirk, who is up for re-election in a tight race in Illinois, also tweeted that Trump should drop out of the race and that the Republican Party "should engage rules for emergency replacement.''
Senator John McCain of Arizona, who lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said Trump "alone bears the burden of his conduct and alone should suffer the consequences," and also announced he was withdrawing his support for Trump.
Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who is chairman of the House oversight committee, said Friday that he "can no longer in good conscience endorse [Trump] for president." Chaffetz said Trump's remarks in the video were "some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine."
Gary Herbert, the governor of Utah, categorized Trump's statements as "beyond offense and despicable."