WASHINGTON – Arizona Republican candidates scrambled Saturday to distance themselves from recordings in which presidential nominee Donald Trump makes offensive and lewd comments about women, while Democrats criticized the GOP responses as too little, too late.
They were reacting to a 2005 recording uncovered by the Washington Post, in which Trump talks bluntly about groping and kissing women and trying to have sex with a married woman, while he himself was married.
Trump apologized late Friday for the statements that he called “locker room banter,” but resisted calls to drop out of the race.
Reaction in Arizona ranged from Republican Sen. John McCain, who said he would no longer support Trump’s candidacy but would write in someone else’s name, to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who tweeted the same message but quickly deleted it, blaming staff for posting the message without his approval.
McCain has long dodged questions about his support for Trump, who criticized the senator’s time as a Vietnam prisoner of war, saying being captured did not make McCain a war hero. But McCain has steadfastly said he would support the party’s nominee, without naming Trump specifically.
That changed Saturday, when McCain released a statement saying he could no longer support Trump’s candidacy.
“Cindy and I will not vote for Donald Trump,” McCain said in the statement. “I have never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate and we will not vote for Hillary Clinton. We will write in the name of some good conservative Republican who is qualified to be president.”
McCain called the video comments “offensive and demeaning” and said “no woman should ever be victimized by this kind of inappropriate behavior.”
McCain’s refusal to disavow Trump and his rhetoric has been a mainstay of the campaign by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, to unseat McCain. Kirkpatrick responded swiftly and vigorously Saturday, accusing McCain of making a “desperate attempt to distance himself from Donald Trump.”
“John McCain showed today he only cares about one thing: his political career,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “His decision is nothing more than a political calculation.
Have questions for the candidates?
The Public Insight Network and Cronkite News want to know what you would ask Senate opponents John McCain and Ann Kirkpatrick in their debate on Arizona PBS Monday night.
“It’s been more than 24 hours since Trump’s comments were released,” her statement said. “If it takes a full day for McCain to decide something is inappropriate, then he clearly doesn’t have the leadership Arizonans need.”
Support for Trump, or lack thereof, is likely to come up Monday when McCain and Kirkpatrick square off in their only scheduled debate of the campaign on Arizona PBS.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who has long been a critic of Trump, took the next step Saturday and called on Trump to withdraw from the race, saying in an earlier tweet that “America deserves far better” than Trump.
But Babeu, the Republican nominee for the congressional seat being vacated by Kirkpatrick, quickly deleted a tweet that said he would be writing in GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence’s name for president after Trump’s “reprehensible” comments.
In a Facebook post Saturday afternoon, Babeu said that “campaign staff tweeted out draft comment” without his approval. The later post said “Trump’s comments are not acceptable – period,” then it urged people to focus on “the issues facing America.”
Babeu’s Democratic opponent, Tom O’Halleran, had said the original tweet that appeared to pull Babeu’s support for Trump had come “far too late” in the campaign.
When that tweet was deleted, O’Halleran said in an emailed statement that it was a move straight out of the playbook of a candidate who “will do or say anything to get elected.”
“First he hides, then he denies, then he lies,” O’Halleran said, pointing to allegations of wrongdoing by Babeu as sheriff and as headmaster of a Massachusetts school. “Babeu has always blamed others and claimed no responsibility for his actions…. and now he’s doing it with his inability to decide where he stands with Donald Trump.”
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, also appeared to stop short of pulling her support for Trump’s candidacy, tweeting late Friday that, “Trump’s comments are disgusting. Joking about sexual assault is unacceptable. I’m appalled.”
Democrats were eager to tie Republicans to Trump’s troubles, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee repeating its long-running attacks against McSally for her refusal to disavow Trump.
In a statement Saturday, the DCCC said that, “In repeatedly refusing to stand up to Trump when it mattered, McSally continues to enable Trump’s disgusting behavior towards women, and anything she says now is too late.”