The presidential campaign is in turmoil less than a month before Election Day, with women coming forward to accuse Donald Trump of accosting them and Trump stepping up efforts to portray Bill Clinton as a sexual predator. The week started out nasty, got worse as it went on and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans are determined that he never gets to the White House.
"I will try to gut Donald Trump with a dull deerhandler," said John Stipanovich, a Republican lobbyist with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Florida who has called Trump a racist, misogynistic and ultra-nationalistic boor and a bully. "I think this election is that important. I think the country faces a significant danger from a Trump presidency."
Republicans are fighting for the soul of the party and the soul of the United States, he said. A worse candidate for president could not be imagined, he said.
"We're going to learn that being off-the-wall crazy does not produce victory," he said.
Trump’s campaign has been in turmoil since Friday, when a tape recording surfaced of him talking about groping women without their consent. He was egged on by Billy Bush, then the co-host of "Access Hollywood," which is owned and distributed by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, MSNBC and this station. Bush has since been suspended.
The fallout continued after The New York Times late Wednesday quoted two women who accused Trump of grabbing or kissing them inappropriately, a People magazine reporter wrote about being pushed against a wall as he kissed her, and a fourth woman told the Palm Beach Post that he had grabbed her from behind.
"These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false, and the Clintons know it and they know it very well," Trump said at a rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday. "These claims are all fabricated, they're pure fiction and they're outright lies. These events never, ever happened."
None of the claims, one of which is more than 30 years old, has been independently confirmed by NBC News.
Trump is trying to turn attention to Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct and Hillary Clinton's role in silencing his victims and at his rally on Thursday he accused the media of being a political special interest group conspiring with the Clintons.
"Their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy," he said. "For them, it's a war and for them, nothing at all is out of bounds. This is a struggle for the survival of our nation."
And Trump has increasingly been warning that the election could be stolen from him.
Even before the women made their allegations, prominent Republicans were abandoning their candidate. Emails obtained by NBC News showed that two unidentified big-money donors to Trump were asking for their money back. Both of Alaska's U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, resigned from leadership positions in the state Republican party, becoming the latest Republicans to say Trump should step aside.
The Ohio GOP chairman said Thursday morning that he did not know whether he would continue to support Trump.
"He clearly has lost it," said Katie Packer, who was a deputy campaign manager for the GOP's 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and founded an anti-Trump super PAC during the primaries.
The worst case scenario has Trump doing so much damage that Clinton wins in a landslide and she has a Democratic Congress to carry out a mandate, said Packer, a partner at Burning Glass Consulting, an all-female Republican consulting firm specializing in messaging to women. The best case, which Packer does not anticipate: Trump wins and faces a hostile Congress to work with.
"This is a guy who has some very serious neurotic tendencies," she said. "He very clearly can't handle any criticism and acts of disloyalty and so he lashes out at people in a very destructive way, not just destructive to them but in a very self-destructive way. And it also feeds into the argument for why we shouldn't give him the nuclear codes."
Trump's lewd, crude comments — which he is brushing off as "locker room talk" — were widely condemned. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would no longer appear with the nominee, instead focusing on defending the party's majority in Congress. U.S. Sen. John McCain said he was parting company with Trump because, "I have daughters, I have friends, I have so many wonderful people on my staff. They cannot be degraded and demeaned in that fashion."
Trump singled out both men in his Twitter attacks on Tuesday.
"Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty," Trump tweeted about the Wisconsin congressman.
And, of McCain, he wrote, "The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!"
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday showed Hillary Clinton holding a 9-point lead over Trump after the second presidential debate on Sunday. In a four-way race, Clinton had the support of 46 percent of likely voters to 37 percent for Trump, 8 percent for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and 2 percent for the Green Party’s Jill Stein. In a head-to-head contest, Clinton beat Trump by 10 points, 50 percent to 40 percent.
To be sure, some Republicans remained in Trump's corner. At the Trump rally on Thursday, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, also accused the media, including The New York Times, of being part of a conspiracy. On Fox News, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, continued to defend Trump saying, "He's a different man from the man you saw on that videotape a few years ago, 11 years ago."
The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, in a conference call with RNC committee members earlier in the week, said that its support for Trump was unchanged. Other Republicans were threatening retribution against party members who did withdraw their support. Diana Orrock, Nevada's Republican National committeewoman and a candidate for the Nevada state assembly said that if Trump did not win the White House, nothing else mattered.
"We have far more important things to be concerned about rather than some boy talk that these guys had 11 years ago," she told CNBC on Monday.
On Thursday, she said her support was as strong now as when she first endorsed him.
Matt Mackowiak a Republican political consultant from Texas and founder of the Potomac Strategy Group in Washington, D.C., said that the remainder of the campaign would resemble a circus. There is no playbook for a race in which the nominee and the party are at war, he said.
"Reince Priebus is trying to hold it together with duct tape at this point," he said. "I'm sympathetic to his challenge but it's every man for himself right now. We have an undisciplined, unhinged nominee surrounded by nut cases and sycophants — with a couple of exceptions."
Clinton is the most flawed Democratic candidate in at least 20 years and could have been beaten had Republicans put principles and ethics over money, power and celebrity, he said. Now, Republicans such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Rep. Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani should be held to account, he said.
"He's become a crazy ex-boyfriend essentially at this point,” Mackowiak said of Trump’s attacks on Clinton. "Doesn’t care about moving on his life. Doesn't genuinely want the other person to have a good life but is consumed by negative energy and by vendettas."
Stipanovich said that half of Trump's supporters were as deplorable as Hillary Clinton labeled them, "ugly folks from the underbelly of America," Stipanovich said. "There's nothing to be done with them other than to thrash them every time we go to the polls."
To win back the other half, who believe the government has let them down, the Republican party will need to take its share of the blame, he said.
"Is the government my enemy, is it part of some great conspiracy to ruin my life and enslave my grandchildren, no, that's ridiculous and we need to start saying that," he said.
The new Republican party must stop being restrictive and afraid, and instead shape the future as best it can.
So far, the most loyal Trump followers have not shown they are a political force beyond their candidate. The one House candidate whom Trump endorsed in the primary, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, lost, Packer noted. After the election, Republicans will need to come together to repair the damage done to their party and choose a presidential candidate who can win a general election.
"I do think the party is in the middle of a civil war right now," she said. "The good news is that we'll be trying to accomplish that with Hillary Clinton as president. Nothing brings Republicans together like Hillary Clinton."