Republicans panic, call on Donald Trump to "step down" following leaked audio boasting of groping women

Sorry congressional Republicans, but there may no longer be a way to boot Trump from the top of the GOP ticket

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published October 8, 2016 1:41PM (EDT)

Donald Trump; The Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016.  (Reuters/L.E. Baskow/Aaron Josefczyk/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump; The Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016. (Reuters/L.E. Baskow/Aaron Josefczyk/Photo montage by Salon)

Elected Republican officials stood by while their presidential nominee attacked a federal judge for his Mexican heritage. They continued to support Donald Trump even after he attacked a Gold Star mother because she is Muslim. And Republicans remained silent as Trump directed the nation to "check out [the] sex tape" during an early morning attack on a woman he had allegedly called "Miss Housekeeping" because she is from Venezuela.

But after The Washington Post published a leaked 2005 video in which Trump bragged to Access Hollywood's Billy Bush about how he was able to grope women because he's famous, finally some Republicans in Congress are beginning to distance themselves from Trump.

While more than 30 former elected Republican congressmen released a letter denouncing Trump as "manifestly unqualified to be president" this week, none of the controversial statements made by the former "Apprentice" star have caused current Republican officeholders to reconsider their support -- until now.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who reluctantly endorsed Trump as he began to ramp up attacks on the judge presiding over a Trump University lawsuit, cancelled his first joint campaign stop with Trump on Saturday and said he was “sickened” by Trump’s comments.

“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “Ever.”

Some Republicans also showed a bit more courage ,calling for Trump to step down and, in one case, even revoking an endorsement.

Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock tweeted early Saturday morning that "Trump should step aside and allow our party to replace him." The congresswoman who is eyeing a run for the Senate next cycle said she "cannot in good conscience vote for Trump":

Colorado Representative Mike Coffman followed suit, urging Trump to “step aside.”

According to CBS Denver, the GOP congressman released a statement Friday: “For the good of the country, and to give the Republicans a chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump should step aside. His defeat at this point seems almost certain. And four years of Hillary Clinton is not what is best for this country. Mr. Trump should put the country first and do the right thing.”

Even in the red state of Alabama, CNN reported that Representative Martha Roby said that "Donald Trump's behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president, and I won't vote for him."

Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also announced that he is withdrawing his support for Trump.

"I'm out," Chaffetz told KSTU Friday night. "I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine."

Chaffetz cited his wife and 15-year-old daughter during his disendorsement.

"And why should we tolerate this?" Chaffetz asked. "This is the Presidency of the United States of America: I just can't do it."

"I think we should all stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate this," Chaffetz said on CNN.

But many Republicans were hardly as courageous as Chaffetz in their condemnation.

Former rival and failed presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who endorsed Trump after the GOP nominee attacked his wife during the primary, referenced the women in his life to criticize Trump's comments:

But Cruz's condemnation came with no signal of a disendorsement. Neither did former rival and failed presidential candidate Scott Walker's criticism:

Senate Republicans are also adding to the pile-on.

Two GOP senators facing their own tough reelection battles were quick to condemn Trump's remarks. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who had been set to campaign with Trump on Saturday, called the video “completely indefensible.” Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who has yet to endorse, called the video “outrageous and unacceptable.”

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who remained #NeverTrump throughout his tough re-election battle, tweeted that the GOP “should engage rules for emergency replacement."

Utah Senator Mike Lee was perhaps the most emphatic in his pleas for Trump to drop out of the race.

“You, Sir, are the distraction!” Lee said in a video to Facebook after Trump released a message dismissing the "more than a decade old video" as a "distraction."

"It’s the distraction from the very principles that will help us win in November," Lee continued. "You yourself, sir, Mr. Trump, have stated repeatedly that the goal, the objective, has got to be to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. I couldn’t agree more. Mr. Trump, I respectfully ask you, with all due respect to step aside. Step down. Allow someone else to carry the banner of these principles.”

One top Republican fundraiser told Bloomberg News that some GOP donors have already begun to look into whether it’s possible to replace Trump as the party’s presidential nominee.

"Major GOP donors are pulling support from Donald Trump and are now looking to fund an effort to back someone else as the Republican nominee," Spencer Zwick said.

But it may be too late for Republicans to jump off the Trump train. Early voting has already begun in one key battleground state, Florida. Sorry Hugh Hewitt:

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia Tesfaye