Senator John McCain, a senior figure in the Republican Party who was its 2008 presidential nominee, formally withdrew his support Saturday for Donald Trump over lewd remarks that threw his White House campaign into disarray.
“I have wanted to support the candidate our party nominated. He was not my choice, but as a past nominee, I thought it important I respect the fact that Donald Trump won a majority of the delegates by the rules our party set. I thought I owed his supporters that deference,” read a statement from McCain, the latest in a growing number of Republicans to withdraw support for Trump.
“But Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy. Cindy and I will not vote for Donald Trump,” he added, referring to his wife.
“I have never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate and we will not vote for Hillary Clinton. We will write in the name of some good conservative Republican who is qualified to be president.”
The campaign has been reeling from a 2005 recording, first reported by The Washington Post and NBC News, in which Trump speaks in vulgar terms about women and his aggressive behavior toward them. Trump has since apologized and vowed to stay in the race.
McCain was joining a fast-growing group of Republican politicians, among them senior figures in the party, who have withdrawn their support for Trump. Earlier Saturday, Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was bested by Trump in the GOP primaries, said he could no longer support his party’s nominee despite having pledged to do so. He said Trump “is a man I cannot and should not support.”
Added Kasich, “I will not vote for a nominee who has behaved in a manner that reflects so poorly on our country.”
South Dakota Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard tweeted Saturday that the election is “too important,” and that Trump should withdraw in favor of his running mate, Mike Pence.
South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Senate Republican, also tweeted Saturday that Pence should take the spot at the top of the Republican ticket “effective immediately.”
Nevada Republican congressman Joe Heck said the “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.”
Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately.
— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) October 8, 2016
US Rep. Mia Love of Utah joined the chorus, saying Trump’s “behavior and bravado have reached a new low.” She said in a statement that she “cannot vote for him,” adding that “for the good of the party, and the country, he should step aside.”
Alabama Rep. Martha Roby said in a statement: “As disappointed as I’ve been with his antics throughout this campaign, I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party. 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.”
Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho also revoked his endorsement, saying: “This is not a decision that I have reached lightly, but his pattern of behavior left me no choice.”
“I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women,” New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said. “I will not be voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and instead will be writing in Gov. Pence for president on Election Day.”
Trump was also slapped by Pence himself, who said he was “offended by the words and actions” of Trump in the video.
“I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them,” the Republican vice presidential nominee said. Having canceled a scheduled appearance in Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon, Pence cited Sunday night’s presidential debate as an opportunity for Trump to “show what is in his heart.”
Trump declared he would not yield the GOP nomination under any circumstances. “Zero chance I’ll quit,” he told The Wall Street Journal. He also told The Washington Post: “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.” He claimed to have “tremendous support.”
Election law experts suggest it would be logistically impossible to replace Trump on the ballot altogether, with early voting underway in some states and overseas ballots already distributed to military servicemen and others.
Ryan fundraising chief Spencer Zwick, however, said he’s been fielding calls from donors who “want help putting money together to fund a new person to be the GOP nominee.”
Zwick told The Associated Press that a write-in or “sticker campaign” relying on social media could “actually work.”
While there has never been a winning write-in campaign in a US presidential contest, such an effort could make it harder for Trump to win.
While funding another candidate could siphon votes away from Trump, the GOP’s biggest donors have little leverage even if they threaten to withhold money for the rest of the campaign. Trump’s campaign has relied far more on small contributors across the country than from the party’s stalwart donors who write the biggest checks possible.