St. Louis — Michigan Republican leaders on Saturday rushed to condemn presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 2005 vulgar sexually-charged comments about women, with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton urging the New York billionaire to drop out of the race.
The 2005 audio recording of Trump bragging about using his celebrity to kiss and fondle women set off a firestorm of backlash among Republicans who have spent months distancing themselves from Trump’s controversial comments about women, Mexicans, Muslims and others who have crossed the real estate mogul.
In the recording, Trump could be heard talking about his unsuccessful efforts to have sex with a married woman named Nancy and how his lips are “like a magnet” when he sees beautiful women.
“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump said on the tape, which was first published Friday afternoon by The Washington Post.
Trump’s recorded conversation with TV host Billy Bush included a graphic description of how he gropes women in the crotch. “Grab them by the (expletive),” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
Calley became the first Michigan Republican leader on Saturday to renounce his endorsement of Trump.
“The latest revelations about Donald Trump and his past make it impossible for me to maintain support of him,” Calley said in a statement released exclusively to The Detroit News. “This is not a decision I take lightly because I still believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency represents a disastrous alternative.”
Calley called on Trump to step aside and “allow a replacement to provide the kind of option America could believe in.”
“If he does not, I intend to write in the name of Governor Pence and focus my time, effort and support on the state House elections,” said Calley, referring to Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Upton, the senior Republican of Michigan’s congressional delegation, said the recording “only confirms” his decision not to endorse Trump’s candidacy “due to his previous off-track comments.”
“It’s a new low. It’s outrageous. As a husband and father, I feel angry and sickened,” Upton, R-St. Joseph, said in a statement. “Those running for the office of the president are rightfully held to a higher standard. These latest transgressions are so grave. I urge him to think about our country over his own candidacy and carefully consider stepping aside from the ticket.”
A defiant Trump told reporters Saturday he would “never withdraw” from the race, hours after posting an overnight video apology on his social media accounts.
Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, said in a statement she found Trump’s comments on the tape to be “reprehensible and disgusting.”
For the first time, McDaniel sought to distance down ballot Republican candidates from their party’s nominee.
“I am confident that Michiganders know that Donald Trump’s comments represent only himself, and other Republicans do not share his views,” McDaniel said. “Donald Trump's comments are his alone to own and I cannot and will not defend them.”
McDaniel, who was a delegate for Trump at the Republican National Convention, is not rescinding her endorsement of Trump. “Not at this point,” said Sarah Anderson, spokeswoman for the Michigan Republican Party.
Mitt Romney, McDaniel’s uncle and the GOP’s 2012 presidential candidate, slammed Trump in a tweet Friday night.
“Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world,” wrote Romney, a Michigan native and former Massachusetts governor.
The Trump tape and his midnight response apologizing for his comments rocked the presidential race just days before Trump will face Democrat Hillary Clinton in their second debate Sunday night at Washington University.
“Anyone concerned about the future of our country, let alone the Republican Party, should call on Trump to withdraw so we can have a chance to beat Hillary Clinton,” said Jeff Timmer, a Lansing-based Republican political consultant. “When it moves from raunchy language to bragging about the ability to sexually assault somebody, that’s beyond rhetoric.”
In a video posted online just after midnight, Trump said his campaign for the White House has changed him and that the controversy “is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.”
Lena Epstein, one of two female co-chairs of Trump’s Michigan campaign, said she did not think Trump should quit. She considers Clinton’s handling of a deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya a more egregious act than Trump’s sexual exploits.
“I still believe that rude remarks from 2005 are not as hurtful and obscene as ignoring pleas for help from America’s embassy in Benghazi,” Epstein told The Detroit News. “He’s made it difficult to support him today, but I do. Despite his human failings, he’s still the better candidate … when it comes to issues of national security and the economy. For those reasons, I will continue to stand behind him.”
Republican state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, who is running for Kent County clerk, broke her silence about Trump in a statement Saturday night, saying, “it is clear that Donald Trump has not earned my respect or my vote.”
Attorney General Bill Schuette, who attended a Trump fundraiser a week ago in Detroit, also condemned Trump’s comments — something he has done before.
“Women should be treated with respect and dignity, period,” Schuette wrote on Twitter late Friday night. “Comments about women as objects or conquests are simply unacceptable.”
Schuette, who like Calley is considered a likely contender for governor in 2018, did not respond Saturday to questions on Twitter about whether he endorses Trump for president over Clinton.
Most Michigan Republican lawmakers issued a steady stream of statements Saturday blasting Trump, but not joining Calley and Upton in calling for Trump to step aside.
“There is no defense or excuse for these offensive comments and Donald Trump rightly apologized for them,” U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said in a statement.
State Rep. Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Republican who is in line to possibly be the next House Speaker, said Saturday he was “deeply troubled” by Trump’s comments as the father of a newborn baby girl.
“No one should ever talk about women the way Donald Trump did on this record. Period,” Leonard said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester Hills, also condemned Trump’s comments in a statement, but did not say whether he still supports Trump.
“No person should ever talk about women the way Trump talked in that conversation,” Bishop said. “I am disgusted by it. Senator John McCain said it best when he said, ‘He alone bears the burden of his conduct and alone should suffer the consequences.’”
GOP businessman Paul Mitchell, who is poised to win the safe Republican seat in the 10th Congressional District, issued a statement Saturday calling Trump’s comments “both disturbing and disgusting.”
“Mr. Trump bears the burden of explaining those comments to the American people,” said Mitchell, a Lapeer County Republican who endorsed Trump after he secured the GOP nomination in May.
U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, also did not withdraw his endorsement of Trump in his statement Saturday.
“As a husband, a father of two daughters, and a human being, there are no excuses for Donald Trump's remarks,” Trott said. “His words are offensive and disgusting.”
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, a Midland Republican who waited until the party’s national convention in July to endorse Trump, said the GOP nominee “should make a full and sincere apology.”
Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said Republicans who have not renounced their support for Trump are effectively “saying that they do not stand with the women of Michigan.”
“Republicans like Mike Bishop, Tim Walberg, David Trott, Jack Bergman, and every, single GOP candidate for the State House, have hidden behind empty statements or said nothing at all,” Dillon said in a statement.
Other elected Michigan Republican leaders were not responding to requests for comment Saturday.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, “is not interested in talking (about) Trump,” spokeswoman Amber McCann said Saturday.
Gov. Rick Snyder, who has declined to endorse Trump, had no comment on the latest Trump controversy, spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.
“He isn’t getting involved in the president race this year,” Heaton said in a text message.
In what may be a preview of Sunday night’s debate, Trump sought to use the controversy surrounding his own 11-year-old comments to highlight former President Bill Clinton’s checkered past of infidelity.
“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump said. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days.”
Even if Trump attempts to turn attention to decades-old allegations against Bill and Hillary Clinton, there could be more shocking revelations about the New York billionaire’s past behavior before Election Day, Timmer said.
“If we think this is the end of it that there’s going to be no more revelations between Oct. 8 and Nov. 8, that’s silly,” Timmer said Saturday. “There’s going to be something like this every couple of days.”
Detroit News Staff Writers Melissa Nann Burke and Jonathan Oosting and the Associated Press contributed.