The release of a 2005 tape in which Donald Trump boasts in vulgar terms about being able to kiss and grope women “when you’re a star” has created a crisis for the part-time Palm Beacher’s campaign and intensified the spotlight on Sunday night’s second presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Clinton knocked Trump on the defensive throughout their first debate Sept. 26, particularly when she accused Trump of calling a former Miss Universe “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight after winning the Trump-sponsored pageant in 1996. A rattled Trump spent the next four days keeping the controversy alive, even going on a pre-dawn Twitter tirade in which he urged voters to check out a purported “sex tape” of the woman.
Now Trump, facing harsh criticism from fellow Republicans over the newly released tape, appears poised to lash out at Clinton in the second debate.
“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump said in a video he released early Saturday that includes a perfunctory apology before swinging into attack mode.
“Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” Trump says in Saturday’s video. “We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
Clinton and Trump will debate at 9 p.m. eastern time at Washington University in St. Louis. The 90-minute event will feature a town-hall format, with candidates fielding some questions from audience members who have been identified by the Gallup Organization as uncommitted voters.
Since Megyn Kelly’s first question to him in the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015, Trump and his surrogates have often struggled to defend remarks he’s made about women. But the 2005 tape crosses into new territory, said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach.
“We have been subjected to what I would call his racist, sexist comments that I don’t believe any other candidate would have gotten away with. This is different in that those tapes, which are very crude and gross, he’s describing his own conduct, which is so unacceptable,” Frankel said.
The 2005 video includes a conversation caught on a hot microphone in which Trump tells Billy Bush, then the host of the “Access Hollywood” TV show, about trying to have sex with a married woman in Palm Beach. The video goes on to capture Trump saying that when he sees beautiful women, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. … And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p——. You can do anything.”
Frankel, who endorsed Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid and was an early supporter of her 2016 run, says Clinton should tread carefully in Sunday’s debate.
“I hope that Hillary Clinton does not go into the gutter with Donald Trump. … She should just talk about the issues that people care about every day when they get out of bed, which is how they are going to make a living or protect Social Security or keep peace in this world or protect climate,” Frankel said.
Palm Beach County Republican State Committeewoman Cindy Tindell downplayed the significance of the 2005 tape.
“I think that the sound and fury about the tape was worse than the tape itself. I watched the tape and I think that it is what he said it is, which is ‘locker-room banter,’ ” said Tindell. “He apologized if he offended anyone. So I take him at his word.”
Trump initially described his comments as “locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
Hours later, Trump released a video in which he said “I was wrong and I apologize.” But he then went on to call the remarks “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we are facing today” before swinging into his attack on Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Tindell said Trump can’t allow the controversy to dominate the debate.
“If I were advising him I would say make sure you get your key points across, which is how you’re going to rejuvenate America,” Tindell said. “As to all this other stuff, how it plays out, I don’t know.”
Trump’s ability to stay on message was already a concern for many Republicans, who were frustrated that Trump missed opportunities in the first debate as he chased after nearly every shiny object Clinton dangled before him.
“He needs to be more aggressive in pointing out Hillary’s failures as secretary of state, which would include her abandonment of our ambassador in Benghazi and her lying to the families of the victims afterwards,” Florida Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman of Boynton Beach said in an interview before the 2005 tape was released.
“He needs to generally be more aggressive concerning her integrity failures, whether it be taking outrageous speaking fees from Wall Street and then claiming to clean up Wall Street or the destruction of 33,000 emails.”
After the debate, Trump is scheduled to campaign in Pennsylvania on Monday, then spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Florida, a state he must win to have a shot at the presidency. He is scheduled to attend a Tuesday rally in Panama City Beach and Wednesday events in Ocala and Lakeland.
Clinton’s campaign has not announced any upcoming Florida events, but either she or a surrogate has been visiting the state nearly every week.
What: Second presidential debate of the 2016 general election
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Where: Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
Moderators: Anderson Cooper, CNN; Martha Raddatz, ABC
Format: Town hall, with half the questions coming from audience members who are to be uncommitted voters selected by the Gallup Organization. The remaining questions will come from moderators. Candidates will have two minutes to respond and there will be an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate further discussion.
Who set the rules: The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates set the format and the requirement that candidates average at least 15 percent in pre-selected national polls to participate. Clinton and Trump met the polling criteria while Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein did not.
Where to watch: Debate airs live on many broadcast and cable networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, C-SPAN, CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, Telemundo and Univision. News networks, YouTube, Twitter, others will offer free live streams.