Republican Donald Trump enters Sunday night’s second presidential debate facing widespread condemnation over lewd and vulgar comments he made about women in a video that surfaced Friday.
“I just start kissing them . . . I don’t even wait,” Trump told “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in the video taken in 2005 as the two prepared to film an interview. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Political analysts say Trump was already in need of a strong second debate performance after national polls showed Democrat Hillary Clinton outperformed him at their first matchup two weeks ago at Hofstra University. The video’s revelations have the potential to cast a shadow over his campaign that will be difficult to outrun even with a deft debate performance, experts say.
“The key to victory is moderate independent swing voters, particularly in the swing states,” said Michael Dawidziak, a Republican campaign strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and Steve Forbes. “Half of those voters are women. Clearly he’s got to stop the bleeding on this somehow. He’s got to make a sort of direct appeal, in the form of an apology, convincing the electorate that this is not what he’s really like . . . because if he loses the support among the independent voters, it’s going to be difficult to win in November.”
After the video’s release, several GOP leaders have called on Trump to withdraw from the race, a slew of prominent Republicans have retracted their endorsements, and former allies and detractors alike have harshly condemned his behavior, including elected officials in his home state.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is running for re-election in the 1st Congressional District against Democrat Anna Throne-Holst, called Trump’s comments “indefensible, lewd and wrong,” though his campaign spokeswoman said he still supported Trump.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who endorsed Trump in May, said on Friday the real estate mogul’s remarks were “offensive and indefensible.”
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said Trump’s comments represent “a sick personal view.”
“Trump was bleeding suburban women voters, now he’s hemorrhaging them, plus their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons,” he said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a series of tweets expressed his “disgust,” writing: “This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. This is about decent versus indecent. Trump’s comments were disgusting on a basic human level.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called Trump’s remarks “sickening” in a Twitter post, adding that his comments have “no place in our society and certainly no place in the presidential race.”
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), a former prosecutor, said “what the so-called law-and-order candidate described was the definition of sexual assault.”
Meanwhile, Clinton enters the debate facing questions about her economic and foreign-trade positions, after the website WikiLeaks posted what it claims are portions of her paid speeches to Wall Street investment firms, that she has so far refused to make public.
The partial speech transcripts were exposed in emails allegedly hacked from Clinton campaign advisers, and show her aides weighing the ramifications of some of her speeches during her primary run against Sen. Bernie Sanders, a staunch critic of Wall Street and big banking.
Clinton’s campaign has suggested some of the documents may have been fabricated, and have questioned the authenticity of the emails.
Political strategists say those emails, in which she reportedly espoused pro-trade and pro-Wall Street sentiments and were released just hours before Trump’s video surfaced Friday afternoon, may provide less of a blow to Clinton’s campaign because of the outcry over Trump’s remarks.
“The Trump video is out there, it’s everywhere, it’s visceral, and people are reacting to it,” Dawidziak said. “The WikiLeaks stuff, you have to wade through it and find the damaging remarks.”
Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist, said the Clinton emails were “small potatoes” compared to Trump’s video.
“I think there’s email fatigue,” Shrum said of the multiple rounds of Clinton emails that have been released as part of a federal probe about her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state. “There’s nothing here I see that’s terribly damaging.”
Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, a Trump campaign surrogate, said that while Trump’s choice of words was “unpleasant, they pale in comparison to the failures and inaction” of Clinton.
LaValle said he expected Trump to come into the debate at Washington University in St. Louis prepared to “talk about the actual issues that people care about.”
LaValle said that while the video may “temporarily” impact Trump’s standing among female voters, ultimately “women are going to make choices best for their families and children” and side with Trump’s positions on national security.
Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member from Great Neck and prominent Clinton supporter, said “any effort by the Trump campaign to create some equivalence between his vile and disgusting words that were recorded and the hacked emails will just further embarrass Republicans.”
Zimmerman said he did not expect Clinton to directly attack Trump on his comments at the debate, noting — “she doesn’t have to, it’s up to the Republican party to call out Donald Trump over his behavior.”
With Laura Blasey, Zachary Dowdy and Tom Brune