Updated at 10:38 p.m. ET
“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
That’s Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, in a video obtained by The Washington Post. Trump was speaking with the television personality Billy Bush, waiting for an appearance on a TV show, in 2005. It’s unclear how the newspaper obtained the video, but it shows Trump making a series of lewd comments about women. He ogles some, and describes his unsuccessful efforts to pick up a married woman.
In describing his behavior toward women, Trump is describing sexual assault: non-consensual kissing and grabbing of women’s genitals. He is bragging, if privately, about appalling and illegal behavior.
The video has thrown the Trump campaign, which has shown itself able to weather storms that would have destroyed many other candidates, into chaos. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he had disinvited Trump from a joint appearance in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin on Saturday. “I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified,” Ryan said. “I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than the clip suggests.”
Trump, in an apparent attempt at cleaning up the mess, issued a statement in which he said, “Governor Mike Pence will be representing me tomorrow in Wisconsin.” He said he would spend his Saturday prepping for Sunday’s second presidential debate, working with Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chris Christie, and Jeff Sessions.
But the backlash extended well beyond Ryan. Priebus himself issued a statement condemning Trump. “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” he said.
There were signs that the damage could be wider-spread still. The Associated Press reported that Pence, Trump’s vice-presidential running mate, was “beside himself” and that his wife was “furious” over the comments. There was speculation among reporters and politicos about whether Trump might be removed, or forced to remove himself, from the GOP ticket, though the seriousness of such discussions was unclear. It’s not clear what mechanisms party leaders might have to force Trump out, nor how that patchwork of state elections laws might affect such a decision. Indeed, early voting has already begun in several states and, presumably, ballots have been cast for the Republican presidential nominee.
Among other high-profile Republicans who have endorsed Trump, there was further backlash. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, an erstwhile rival of Trump’s for the presidential nomination, tweeted:
Donald's comments were vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 8, 2016
No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private.
Governor Scott Walker also condemned Trump:
Inexcusable. Trump's comments are inexcusable.— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) October 8, 2016
Neither man directly withdrew his endorsement, however.
Senator Ted Cruz, another former rival who recently endorsed Trump, tweeted that “Every wife, mother, daughter—every person—deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.” Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, a Republican, called on Trump to drop out, and current Governor Gary Herbert, also a Republican, said he could not vote for Trump. Longstanding Trump critics like Senators Jeff Flake and Mark Kirk piled on, too.
The Trump video features a long list of offensive comments.
“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”
As actress Arianne Zucker approaches to lead them on to the set, Trump continues, “I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
The tape represents yet another remarkable moment in a campaign full of them. Politicians, like all people, lead different lives in public and in private, and say things behind closed doors that they would never say publicly. While plenty of former presidents have had a penchant for lewd remarks—witness the hilarious recording of Lyndon Johnson ordering trousers—and plenty have been womanizers, including Johnson and President Bill Clinton, never has a recording of a presidential candidate speaking this way made its way into public while he was running.
Responding to the story, Trump tried to play the remarks off as simply boys-will-be-boys behavior, and—continuing a recent pattern of making unsubstantiated allegations—claimed that Bill Clinton “has said far worse to me on the golf course.” Trump continued: “I apologize if anyone was offended.” That non-apology falls short on several counts. Trump seems to view these statements simply offensively rude.
The Clinton campaign, in a statement, said, “This is horrific. We cannot allow this man to be president.”
The recording, made as Trump was on microphone, offers an unusual window into his private conversation. There’s a powerful impact to hearing Trump make the comments himself, as one can in the new tape, though it matches with previous stories. “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass,” he said. He famously conducted an affair with Marla Maples, who would become his second wife, while still married to his first wife. Jill Harth, who worked with Trump on a pageant in the 1990s, accused him of attempted rape and told The Guardian this summer that Trump had groped her.
After the Post published its story, The New York Times published online a column by Nicholas Kristof that will be printed in Sunday’s edition, adding to Harth’s story. Harth described her encounters with Trump in harrowing detail. In one case, she says he attempted to have sex with her while she was looking at his daughter Ivanka’s bedroom.
“I was admiring the decoration, and next thing I know he’s pushing me against a wall and has his hands all over me,” Harth told Kristof. “He was trying to kiss me. I was freaking out.” In one case, she vomited “as a defense mechanism.”
In an interview this week, Trump argued that some of the comments he has made about women—often delivered during appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show—were not sincere, but were in fact made in character, under his guise as an entertainer.
“A lot of that was done for the purpose of entertainment, there’s nobody that has more respect for women than I do,” he said. Asked whether he was trying to tone that down now, he said, “It’s not a question of trying, it’s very easy.”
These private comments contradict Trump’s idea that it’s all just public posturing.
They also come at inopportune time, both for Trump and for his allies. There’s about one month left before the election, and Trump’s standing in the polls has been falling. The second presidential debate is scheduled for Sunday night, and Trump is likely to be asked about the comments. During the first debate, Hillary Clinton brought up old disparaging statements he had made about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, baiting Trump into responding and making new disparaging comments.
If Trump is able to quiet the furor by Sunday evening’s debate, he’s sure to face more questions about his treatment of women there.