Donald Trump is girding for an intensely personal fight with Hillary Clinton at Sunday night’s debate.
About an hour before he was slated to appear on the debate stage, Trump made a surprise appearance with women who have in the past accused Bill Clinton of inappropriate sexual activity. Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the women will be in the audience at the debate, which begins at 6 p.m. and will be co-moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
The stunning development comes as Trump tries to shake off the fallout of the release of a decade-old video tape that shows him making lewd and sexually aggressive remarks about women. Clinton’s aides told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny they did not expect this in their planning for the debate.
Asked if it would rattle Clinton, one aide said, “not at all” and predicted the move could help her.
The turmoil in Trump’s campaign have tipped the Republican Party into chaos. Dozens of elected Republicans in Washington and state capitals around the country have condemned Trump — and many have called for him to step aside. His own running mate, Mike Pence, said Saturday he can’t defend Trump’s comments.
President Barack Obama joined in the condemnation Sunday, saying the comments suggest Trump “doesn’t care much about the basic values.”
“One of the most disturbing things about this election is just the unbelievable rhetoric coming at the top of the Republican ticket,” Obama said at a campaign event in Chicago for US Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth. “I don’t need to repeat it. There are children in the room.”
Meanwhile, Clinton has largely stayed quiet, letting the turmoil in the GOP unfold and preparing to address the controversy publicly for the first time before an audience of millions.
Trump heads into the debate under intense pressure to deliver a powerful performance that demonstrates regret and remorse for his conduct. Only a top-notch showing will help Trump stem the GOP exodus away from his campaign that kicked into full gear Saturday.
On Sunday, he struck back, hinting to Republicans distancing themselves from him that they would would regret it.
“So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers – and elections – go down!” he tweeted.
And his top Sunday show surrogate, Rudy Giuliani, tried to deflect concerns while showing contrition.
“The fact is that men at times talk like that. Not all men, but men do. He was wrong for doing it. I am not justifying it. I believe it’s wrong. I know he believes it’s wrong. I believe this is not the man we’re talking about today,” Giuliani told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”