Sex boasts dash hopes of winning female vote in US
The upcoming presidential TV debate comes as Republicans fear there could now be no way back from Trump's bragging about molesting women. Dan Roberts in Washington reports
There is no good time for party leaders to call the actions of their presidential candidate "sickening", "despicable" and "vile", but such a chorus of condemnation 31 days before an election that is already sliding out of view suggests more than just the White House is at stake.
Reaction to hearing Donald Trump boast of molesting women was particularly fierce among Republicans in Congress, who are not only worried about losing control of the Senate but perhaps even the House of Representatives too, with this man at the top of their ticket.
To see Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell describing the taped comments as showing "utter lack of respect for women" and House speaker Paul Ryan quickly axing Trump from a joint campaign event was in one way unsurprising. Even Trump is now apologising for Trump.
Yet, both have held their noses before. Ryan even once accused his party's nominee of textbook racism only to stick by his previous day's endorsement.
This time may be different because it may be too late to take cover. Washington fears the Trump train is finally hurtling off the tracks and the question now is how many carriages will be pulled off with him before it ends in a ditch.
To see why, one only needs to look at polling among women in particular before Trump was heard using obscene language to brag about groping.
His reputation for making derogatory comments was already damaging him among key electoral groups, according to the latest polling - 56pc of white women, 64pc of suburban women and 67pc of women with a college degree rate the Republican "unfavourably", according to NBC and the Wall Street Journal.
Even women without college degrees - a demographic known to be more sympathetic - are negatively disposed toward him by a margin of 62pc to 28pc.
The sliding popularity can be seen clearly enough in the national polling average, which puts Clinton some five points ahead after they briefly came close to touching before the last debate. But the more worrying shift has come for Trump in swing states such as Ohio and Florida, where he looked until recently to stand a good chance of winning, but which are now out of contention.
Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O'Dell said that she was "saddened" by Donald Trump's comments about her in a leaked audio recording."
"Politics aside, I'm saddened that these comments still exist in our society at all. When I heard the comments yesterday, it was disappointing to hear such objectification of women," she said in a statement released by Entertainment Tonight.
The reaction of religious conservatives in Utah and elsewhere to the latest revelations indicates a swath of Republican red states could join blue Democratic targets and purple swing states that are lost to him forever, and point to a blow-out electoral college defeat unless the campaign can find a way out of this. But Trump's strategy to turn the tables on the Clinton family in tonight's televised debate will be hugely complicated by the new revelations, not least as they appear to confirm allegations of sexual assault victims who claimed he had groped them in just such a manner.
Last weekend, Trump revealed he was planning to raise Bill Clinton's infidelities to unsettle his opponent after a first presidential debate in which she appeared to get under his skin.
"She's nasty, but I can be nastier than she ever can be," Trump told the New York Times. "Hillary Clinton was married to the single greatest abuser of women in the history of politics," he added. "Hillary was an enabler, and she attacked the women who Bill Clinton mistreated afterward. I think it's a serious problem for them, and it's something that I'm considering talking about more in the near future."
Yet any attempt to go negative to try to restore momentum will be complicated by the format of the debate in St Louis, during which members of the public will ask the candidates questions in a town hall-style event that tends to lead to more polite policy discussions than those hosted by media moderators.
Whether Trump really wants to follow through on his repeated threats to bring up Clinton's personal scandals is also unclear.
A lawyer who represents several women who made made unproven allegations against Bill Clinton - including Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones and Dolly Kyle - claims that her offer to bring one of them to sit in the front row at St Louis was rebuffed by the Trump campaign, which said he wanted to "take the high road" rather than focus on sleaze.
The tactics Trump adopts tonight will also be shaped heavily by his choice of advisers. New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani are thought to have played a much closer role this time around, after Roger Stone and Roger Ailes - two media veterans without extensive political experience - were blamed for encouraging him to skip lengthy preparations for the first debate.
Christie, in particular, has proved a highly effective and pugnacious debater in the past, helping to destroy the 2016 presidential hopes of Marco Rubio in a primary debate where he mocked the Florida senator's habit of repeating fixed talking points.
Fears that the Trump campaign is in freefall were exacerbated on Friday by reports that it has cancelled planned television advertising in key target states - a sign perhaps of cash shortages or that he is reining in expectations of actually winning and wants to minimise the humiliation.
A separate leak of a Trump tax return revealing he may have avoided paying income tax for nearly two decades by booking a loss of $916m have further dented his reputation for business acumen and empathy for hard-working taxpayers.
Clinton, meanwhile, has continued her habit of extensive preparation, though did not use a mock stand-in for Trump as she did before the first debate.
"Hillary did a lot of town hall debates and a lot of town halls during the course of the primaries and into the general," campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters on Wednesday.
"She's very used to the format," added Podesta. "She likes it. She likes answering questions from individual citizens and she listens hard and relates to people. That's a format that Donald Trump isn't as used to so we'll see. I think it's a natural format for her."
Clinton is likely to face tough questions of her own though. New details of her highly lucrative speeches to Wall Street bankers emerged on Friday in transcripts published via Wikileaks. Together with leaked emails of her advisers attacking Barack Obama during the last election, the period up to the debate has seen a barrage of new ammunition dumped at the feet of both candidates.
Meanwhile Trump has apologised for his behaviour in footage released to social media.
"I've never said I'm a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I'm not.
"I've said and done things I regret, and the words released on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologise. I've travelled the country talking about change for America but my travels have also changed me".
A remorseful Trump continued: "I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.
"We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate."