Make or break: Donald Trump’s campaign hangs by a thread as he prepares for second presidential debate against Hillary Clinton
Audio from 2005 records Republican candidate making sexually explicit comments about women, prompting some in his party to urge him to quit race
White House candidate Donald Trump desperately needs a strong debate performance against Hillary Clinton, with stakes sky-high following intense scrutiny of his treatment of women and damaging footage of him making lewd remarks.
The real estate magnate will face the former secretary of state in their second presidential debate which will take place at Washington University in St Louis. It will begin at 9am Hong Kong time on Monday.
His unprecedented, outside-the-establishment presidential bid, and the embattled Republican Party with it, was thrown into disarray by his misogynistic comments, with growing calls from top Republicans for him to step aside.
Even before the latest fallout, Trump was already in need of a moment of political magic to reverse his slide in the polls barely four weeks from Election Day on November 8. Now his campaign has been rocked by its worst crisis, with his crude comments echoing in voters’ ears.
The format poses its own difficulties for Trump: half of the questions will be asked by undecided voters. He will want to build a personal connection with these everyday Americans and show his capacity for empathy, a quality that often has been absent in his large, raucous campaign rallies.
Despite an angry backlash over Trump’s remarks boasting about his ability to grope women as he pleases without impunity, he insisted there is “zero chance I’ll quit”.
Late Saturday, the defiant Republican stepped outside of his Trump Tower skyscraper in New York, brandishing his fist to cheers from dozens of supporters. Asked if he was staying in the race, he responded: “100 per cent”.
In the footage, released Friday by The Washington Post, Trump can be heard using vulgar and predatory language as he describes hitting on a married woman and grabbing women’s crotches.
It forced a rare apology from a campaign already peppered by controversies over Trump’s treatment of women, roiling his Republican Party.
The Republican National Committee appeared to have halted part of its “Victory” programme to elect Trump, asking for a mail production to be “put a hold”, the Politico news website reported.
CNN said the RNC was considering ending a joint fundraising agreement with the Trump campaign.
But Trump called the disclosure a “distraction”, defiantly hitting back at the Clintons over husband Bill’s past infidelities, and hinting he would say more during the debate.
Republican reaction to the videotape came fast and furious, with some calling on him to step aside or allow running mate Mike Pence to take over, while others simply withdrew their endorsement.
By Saturday, about a dozen senators, a dozen members of the House of Representatives and three governors – all Republicans – had withdrawn their support.
Among them was former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who said: “Enough! Donald Trump should not be president. He should withdraw.”
Senator John McCain, the 2008 presidential nominee with whom Trump has sparred repeatedly, said “Donald Trump’s behaviour ... make[s] it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.”
Governor John Kasich of Ohio said Trump’s comments were “disgusting” and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk called for an “emergency replacement”.
But top Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, insisted that there was “nothing that would cause his dropping out”.
“That is wishful thinking of the Clinton campaign and those people who have opposed him for a long time. He is in the race to win,” Giuliani added.
Clinton, who is seeking to become the nation’s first female commander-in-chief, is almost certain to call out Trump about the footage during the debate.
“This is horrific,” she said on Twitter. “We cannot allow this man to become president”.