Republican elected officials scrambled over the weekend to stake out safe ground in the wake of the incendiary video released Friday of GOP nominee Donald Trump suggesting he manhandled women at will. Some denounced the comments, not the man; others said they could no longer support him for president.
By Sunday evening, more than three dozen elected Republicans had announced that they will not vote for Trump. Arizona Sen. John McCain said he will write in "the name of some good conservative Republican who is qualified to be President."
For Sen. Kelly Ayotte, locked in a tight re-election campaign in New Hampshire where she has been repeatedly asked to respond to Trump's comments, the video tipped the scales. "I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” she said.
Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois said: "I am rescinding my support of Donald Trump and asking to have my name removed from his agricultural advisory committee.”
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted: "If Donald Trump wishes to defeat Hillary Clinton, he should do the only thing that will allow us to do so — step aside."
Others denounced the comments but stopped short of saying they would not vote for the GOP ticket, or that Trump should quit.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming provided a good example of this tightrope: "Because he had the good sense to choose Mike Pence as his running mate I still intend to vote for him," she said, "but I will be holding my nose and repeating to myself, 'Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court."
Ohio Rep. Jim Rennacci said: "Trump’s remarks about women were appalling." But, he added, "we can’t have another Clinton White House and Trump must restore America’s faith to prevent one."
Republicans such as Ayotte in hotly contested Senate races seemed quickest to denounce not only the comments but the candidate, as well. Rep Joe Heck, locked in a tight race with Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto to replace Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, said: "I believe our only option is to formally ask Mr. Trump to stand down and to allow Republicans the opportunity to elect someone who will provide us with the strong leadership so desperately needed and one that Americans deserve."
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who appears to have built a comfortable lead in his re-election race, said: "While I continue to respect those who still support Donald Trump, I can no longer support him. I continue to believe our country cannot afford a Hillary Clinton presidency. I will be voting for Mike Pence for President."
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois has feuded with Trump for months, and he revoked his endorsement in June. But the senator, who is considered one of the most endangered incumbents this fall, went a step further Friday, saying Trump should drop out of the race.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who feuded bitterly with Trump during the GOP primaries but endorsed him in May, condemned Trump's comments but said nothing about his endorsement. "Donald's comments were vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify," tweeted Rubio, who is nursing a narrow lead in polls for his reelection bid. "No one should ever talk about any woman in those terms, even in private.”
Dozens of other elected Republicans denounced Trump's comments but have remained silent on whether they will still vote for him. Sen. Pat Toomey, holding a narrow lead in polls in his re-election bid, called Trump's comments "outrageous and unacceptable" but did not indicate how he would vote.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was "sickened" by Trump's comments and disinvited the GOP nominee from a campaign event in Wisconsin on Saturday, but he stopped short of saying he would not vote for Trump. "That is not what we are here to talk about today," he told the crowd.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took the same path.
"I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape," McConnell said. But he stopped short of saying he would not vote for his party's presidential nominee.