Trump's lewd comments create divisions in Michigan GOP

Chad Livengood, and Michael Gerstein

Most top Michigan Republican leaders are sticking with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump despite having misgivings over a sexually explicit 2005 recording of Trump bragging that he can use his celebrity to kiss and fondle women without their consent.

Republicans across the country have spent the past three days responding to the decade-old recording of Trump describing his unsuccessful attempt to have sex with a married woman. A handful of Michigan Republican leaders called on Trump to drop out of the race over the weekend, but others didn’t rescind prior endorsements while criticizing the businessman’s comments.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Trump’s “so-called locker room banter is indefensible” and “appalling.”

“Juvenile comments viewing women as objects or conquests is wrong, whether you’re in the frat house or the White House,” Schuette told The Detroit News.

But Schuette, who is a likely GOP contender for governor in 2018, said he still supports Trump for essentially one reason.

“I’m not going to give Hillary Clinton the master key to the United States Supreme Court,” Schuette said of the Democratic nominee.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan GOP, condemned Trump’s comments in a statement Saturday, stopping short of renouncing her party’s nominee.

“I thought it was important to denounce the comments on the tape as a stand-alone comment,” McDaniel said in a Monday interview. “I can’t defend it.”

But after Trump’s debate performance Sunday, which won him good reviews considering his campaign’s weekend crisis, McDaniel and other Republican leaders were trying to move on from the Trump tape.

“We win on the issues,” McDaniel said, repeating her advice to Republican candidates for state and local offices. “... Do not let the Democrats distract us from the issues that affect everyday working Michiganders.”

McDaniel also cited the likelihood that the next president will get to appoint at least three nominees to the Supreme Court as a reason to remain committed to Trump.

Even with “two flawed candidates,” McDaniel said, “you have to look at what are the policy and proposals they’re putting forward, especially the Supreme Court, which is a generational choice.”

No more questions

U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, sought to end reporters’ questions about controversial things Trump says and does.

“I will not answer any more questions regarding Donald Trump,” Bishop said in a statement.

Bishop said he was following the lead of his Democratic opponent, Suzanna Shkreli, who sidestepped questions early in her campaign about actress Melissa Gilbert’s defense of film director Roman Polanski’s child rape conviction. Gilbert was originally Bishop’s opponent in the 8th Congressional District until dropping out in May, citing debilitating health problems.

“Shkreli said she would focus on her own campaign. I am choosing to do the same,” Bishop said in a statement.

Bishop, who originally endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the GOP primaries, said he’s been “continuously troubled” by Trump’s “conduct and statements.”

“I publicly admonished him over his disgusting comments about women,” said Bishop, who did not say whether he still supports Trump.

Shkreli, a Macomb County assistant prosecutor who lives in Clarkston, called Bishop’s continued support for Trump “repulsive.”

“As someone who has prosecuted sexual assaults, I find Donald Trump’s comments and support for Trump repulsive,” she said in a statement. “Mike Bishop continues to put partisan politics above our country’s interests by supporting Donald Trump for president.”

Other Republicans in competitive congressional races across the state indicated they still support Trump.

“I’ve said all along I will support the party's nominee because we cannot afford four more years of the Obama-Clinton status quo agenda,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, who is in a hotly contested re-election campaign against Democratic state Rep. Gretchen Driskell.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Jack Bergman, who is running against former Michigan Democratic Party chairman Lon Johnson for the 1st Congressional District seat, called Trump’s statements on the recording “unfortunate, offensive and unacceptable.”

But in a statement Monday, Bergman did not say whether he still supports Trump.

“He was right to apologize to his family and now is the time for me to focus on the issues of importance to the 1st District such as national security, repealing Obamacare, and protecting Social Security and Medicare,” Bergman said.

Call to quit

Others called for the celebrity billionaire to quit the race with four weeks until Election Day.

The Detroit News first reported Saturday on Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s renounced endorsement of Trump, saying “the latest revelations about Donald Trump and his past make it impossible for me to maintain support of him.”

“This is not a decision I take lightly because I still believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency represents a disastrous alternative,” said Calley, who also may run for governor in 2018.

Calley, who urged Republicans in May to unite behind Trump after a bruising primary campaign, said Trump should step down from the ticket for the good of “the party and America.” He said he plans instead to cast a write-in presidential vote for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate.

U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Justin Amash of Cascade Township also urged Trump to quit the race. Upton and Amash never endorsed Trump.

Schuette said there’s no scenario where Trump withdraws from the race with early absentee voting already underway in Michigan.

“Donald Trump’s not going to resign. That’s fantasy,” Schuette said. “And write-ins will not beat Hillary Clinton.”

But Republicans spent the weekend coping with the fallout over the 2005 recording of Trump bantering with “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush about how he can grab women by the crotch and kiss them without prior consent.

Lena Epstein, co-chair of Trump Michigan campaign, said her phone was ringing off the hook all weekend with calls from distraught Republican activists and elected officials.

“We have never, ever loved Donald Trump because he speaks like a kindergarten teacher,” Epstein said. “His public and private persona is the truth – what you see is what you get. This is a human being who made a mistake and it’s not OK.”

Epstein, co-owner of the Vesco Oil Corp., was planning to attend a tea party meeting Monday night in Novi and speak to a group of conservative activists about how they move forward from Trump’s remarks.

“We’re going to talk about what he said, we’re going to process it, think it through and at the end of the day we’re going to walk out of that room fortified,” she said.