Iowa GOP leaders condemn Trump's comments, but still support him

Video release showed Trump making lewd comments about women

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By Erin Murphy and Rod Boshart, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES -- If Donald Trump needs a safe space, he should come to Iowa.

Across the country Saturday, the Republican presidential candidate faced withering criticism over recently published lewd comments he made in 2005 about groping women.

Since the comments were published, more than 30 Republican members of Congress and governors who had not previously ruled out supporting Trump disavowed his candidacy, the New York Times reported Saturday.

In Iowa, however, Republican leaders -- as they gathered for their annual fall fundraiser -- condemned Trump’s comments but continued to support his candidacy, either directly or by way of opposing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

And a new Iowa Poll published Saturday evening showed Trump leading Clinton, 43 percent to 39 percent, in Iowa, although the survey was taken before Trump’s latest comments were published.

“When you look at the whole picture, I think what he said was absolutely wrong and reprehensible, yet this has happened in 2005 and we need to look to the future, and we need to look at what kind of a leader we’re going to have for this country,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, whose son Eric is the Trump campaign’s Iowa director. “I think that the vision Trump and (running mate Mike) Pence have is much better for the future of America than what Hillary Clinton offers.”

During their remarks at the fundraiser, Iowa’s U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both made the case for voting for Trump without using his name.

Ernst dedicated most of her remarks to criticizing Clinton, and Grassley said Republicans must vote for a candidate they want making appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is not an election about who’s going to be president just for the next four years. This is an election about the direction of the Supreme Court for the next 40 years,” Grassley said.

Neither Grassley nor Ernst spoke to reporters before the event, although Ernst gave a brief answer to one question as she hurried to her seat. When asked whether she still supports Trump, Ernst replied simply, “I do not support Hillary Clinton.”

The state’s Republican Party chairman Jeff Kaufmann condemned Trump’s comments, which he called disgusting, but said he still will encourage Republicans to vote for Trump.

Kaufmann said he thinks voters face a choice between two flawed candidates.

“The only way to avoid a disaster and the Clinton gang returning to the White House is to do just that, is to elect Donald Trump,” Kaufmann said.

The evening’s sharpest rebuke of Trump came from a non-Iowan: U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, the event’s keynote speaker.

Cotton said Trump has let down Republicans again, and said at Sunday’s presidential debate Trump must take full responsibility for his words and actions and pledge “to finally change his ways.”

“If he does those things, then he can right this ship,” Cotton said. “If he does not do those things, if he will not do those things, then he needs to consider whether it’s time for him to step aside and allow our party to nominate an elder statesman who will do those things and who will carry our banner into November.”

Earlier Saturday, an Iowa state senator who dropped his Republican Party affiliation in protest of Trump’s offensive statements and behavior called on Iowa GOP leaders to withdraw their support for Trump over the recently published comments.

“Now that Trump’s true anti-women sickness has been revealed, surely these two state leaders must condemn Trump publicly,” Johnson said. “As I said in June, Donald Trump is a bigot, misogynist and racist, and is unfit to be president of a great nation.”

Trump issued a video statement in which he apologized for the comments, which were caught on microphone in a leaked 2005 video that was released Friday. Trump also called the footage of his comments a “distraction” from bigger issues at stake in the Nov. 8 election.

“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not,” Trump said in the video. “I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today 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.”

Trump told reporters Saturday that he would never withdraw from the race, even as pressure mounted for him to step aside.

The Clinton campaign in Iowa addressed Trump’s comments with a letter signed by four local mothers.

“The language Trump uses to describe women is not just shocking and hurtful, but disqualifies him for the presidency,” the letter says. “As mothers of young children and grandchildren, we want our president to set the example for young people that every person is their equal regardless of gender and physical appearance, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. Instead, Trump continues to divide the country with his hateful rhetoric, volatile temperament, and demeaning views toward women and too many Americans.”

Late Saturday evening the Trump campaign announced Pence will return to Iowa for a campaign event Tuesday in Des Moines.

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