A defiant Donald Trump is limping towards a critical presidential debate against Hillary Clinton without the backing of a growing group of Republican leaders.
Mr Trump has insisted he will “never” abandon his White House bid despite calls for him to step aside after his vulgar descriptions of sexual advances on women were revealed.
Mr Trump’s task in today’s face-off is enormous, and perhaps insurmountable.
After video footage emerged which showed the Republican nominee making crude comments about women, he told the Washington Post on Saturday morning: “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.”
He also told the Wall Street Journal there was “zero chance I’ll quit” in the battle with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The comments came as a growing number of Republican figures urged Trump to leave the race for the White House after a video surfaced which captured him making vulgar and sexually charged comments about women.
Trump said he has also been getting calls of support after the footage dating from 2005 emerged.
Clinton called Trump’s remarks “horrific”.
This is horrific. We cannot allow this man to become president. https://t.co/RwhW7yeFI2
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 7, 2016
Even before the recording of his remarks were made public, the businessman was lagging behind Mrs Clinton after an undisciplined first debate and struggling to overcome deep scepticism among women about his temperament and qualifications to be commander in chief.
Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges said that for Mr Trump the debate “is now everything”.
Mr Trump has hinted he may turn the debate into a referendum on Mrs Clinton’s marriage, namely her husband’s extramarital affairs and her treatment of the women who were involved.
In what was billed as a videotaped apology for his actions, Mr Trump said “Bill Clinton has actually abused women” and Hillary Clinton “bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated” her husband’s “victims”.
Republican leaders from Utah to Alabama called on Trump to leave the presidential race as the party struggled to grapple with the crisis.
In an extraordinary rebuke, Mr Trump’s own running mate, Mike Pence, declared he could neither condone nor defend the remarks.
“We pray for his family,” Mr Pence said in a statement after cancelling a Wisconsin appearance scheduled with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, both of whom had condemned Mr Trump’s remarks but stopped short of withdrawing support altogether.
Among them were Ohio senator Rob Portman, New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte – both are running for re-election – and the party’s 2008 nominee, Arizona senator John McCain, who had stood by Mr Trump even after the billionaire questioned whether the former POW should be considered a war hero because he got “captured”.
Mr McCain, who is also facing a challenge in November, said Mr Trump’s behaviour made it “impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy”.
Many went further and called on Mr Trump to quit the race.
“I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party,” Alabama representative Martha Roby said in a statement. “Now, it is abundantly clear that the best thing for our country and our party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket.”
However, US House Speaker Paul Ryan and various other high-profile Republicans refused to abandon their nominee, who has long faced criticism from within his own party, but never to this degree.
Republican leaders have scheduled a conference call for House GOP politicians, who are out of town for Congress’ election recess. Such calls are rare and usually held to discuss important matters.
In a videotaped apology, Trump declared “I was wrong and I apologise” after being caught on tape bragging about aggressively groping women in 2005.
He also defiantly dismissed the revelations as “nothing more than a distraction” from a decade ago and signalled he would press his presidential campaign by arguing that Clinton has committed greater sins against women.