With Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in crisis mode one day before a pivotal debate in St. Louis, at least two area GOP officials want their party's nominee to step aside.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, both released statements on Saturday pulling their support for Trump. Their retractions came a little less than a day after the Washington Post’s explosive story detailing Trump’s vulgar comments about women that were captured on tape in 2005.
Among other things, Trump bragged to then-Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about trying to have sex with a married woman. He also graphically contended how his "star" power allowed him to sexually grope women.
Trump created a hastily made video late Friday night where he stated: "I said it, it was wrong, and I apologize." But by Saturday, some Republican officials like Wagner and Davis began abandoning Trump’s candidacy.
“I have committed my short time in Congress to fighting for the most vulnerable in our society,” Wagner said in her statement. “As a strong and vocal advocate for victims of sex trafficking and assault, I must be true to those survivors and myself and condemn the predatory and reprehensible comments of Donald Trump. I withdraw my endorsement and call for Governor Pence to take the lead so we can defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Wagner had previously been a backer of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, but joined other Missouri Republicans in endorsing Trump this summer after he became the official nominee.
Davis’ statement said that Trump’s comments “are inexcusable and go directly against what I’ve been doing in Washington to combat assaults on college campuses.” He then rescinded his endorsement.
As of 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Wagner and Davis were the only St. Louis area lawmakers who revoked their support for Trump. Several GOP statewide aspirants, including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, gubernatorial nominee Eric Greitens and attorney general hopeful Josh Hawley issued statements condemning Trump's comments. But none of their remarks indicated any plans to withdraw their backing of Trump for president.
(The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported that Blunt was still voting for Trump. St. Louis Public Radio sent inquiries to GOP statewide candidates, including Blunt and Greitens, about whether they were still supporting Trump. Thus far, none have responded.)
And one of Wagner's Missouri colleagues, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, indicated she's not rescinding her support for Trump:
— Vicky Hartzler (@VickyH4Congress) October 8, 2016
In Illinois, embattled U.S. Sen Mark Kirk, a Republican in a tight contest with Democratic congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, also called for Trump to drop out. Kirk had initially endorsed Trump, but pulled his support a few months ago.
In some ways, the frenzied Republican push to get Trump out of the race resembles what happened during Missouri's U.S. Senate contest in 2012. After then-U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments in August 2012, many prominent Republicans, including Blunt, tried to convince the Republican nominee to drop out so he could be replaced. (Wagner was on the list of potential replacements.)
But Akin defied those calls and went on to lose to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill by a landslide.
The key difference this time around, though, is that those calls for Akin to quit came when it was still possible in Missouri to get his name off the ballot. The deadline to switch Trump’s name for somebody else in Missouri passed several weeks ago. That's true in many other states, especially those where early voting already is underway.
Such replace-Trump efforts also may be a moot point. Several national media outlets reported that Trump isn’t planning to step aside:
The media and establishment want me out of the race so badly - I WILL NEVER DROP OUT OF THE RACE, WILL NEVER LET MY SUPPORTERS DOWN! #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2016
The national Republican Party has no official power to force Trump out, although it does have a procedure in place to replace him should he voluntarily step aside.
The turmoil comes less than 48 hours before Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are set to debate at Washington University. It’s appears likely that Sunday night’s showdown could be Trump’s first live appearance since the Post story broke.
In response to an inquiry about Trump's comments, Washington University said in an unsigned statement that “our responsibility as host is to provide a neutral space for the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to hold its debate and for the American people to see the two leading candidates together on the same stage, addressing the issues on the minds of voters,” the statement said. “It would be inappropriate to comment any further.
“Months of planning and hard work, all across the university, have gone into creating an exceptional debate experience and venue,” the statement concluded. “We are proud of effort and are ready to welcome the world to Washington University.”
St. Louis Public Radio's Dale Singer and Jo Mannies contributed information to this story.