U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, facing a party rebellion over his obscene comments about groping women without consent, met on Sunday with women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct hours ahead of his debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump appeared with three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct and a fourth woman who was a victim in a rape case that Hillary Clinton participated in as a defense attorney.
Trump had threatened to attack Bill Clinton for his marital infidelities in response to criticism from Hillary Clinton that the Republican nominee is a misogynist who has a history of mistreating women.
“Thank you very much for coming and these four very courageous women have asked to be here,” Trump said to reporters.
Clinton’s campaign responded to Trump’s event by calling it a “stunt” and a “destructive race to the bottom.”
A flood of Republicans have withdrawn their support for Trump over a 2005 video that emerged on Friday showing the businessman, then a reality TV star, talking on an open microphone about groping women and trying to seduce a married woman.
The controversy has pitched Trump, 70, into the biggest crisis of his 16-month-old campaign and deepened fissures between him and establishment Republicans.
Hours before the second presidential debate with Clinton, Trump appeared with Paula Jones, who filed a sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton in 1991, Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of rape in 1978, and Kathleen Willey, a former White House aide who accused Bill Clinton of groping her in 1993.
Clinton was never charged in any of the incidents. He settled the sexual harassment suit with Jones for $850,000, with no apology or admission of guilt.
Also at the event was Kathy Shelton, who was raped when 12 years old. Hillary Clinton, a practicing attorney at the time, defended the rapist who ultimately pled guilty to a reduced charge.
“Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison,” Broaddrick said.
Trump already had an uphill battle to win the White House in the Nov. 8 election before disclosure of a 2005 video in which he could be heard talking crudely about women.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll had Clinton leading by 5 points on Friday, before the video surfaced. Now, the question is whether Trump’s quest for the presidency is all but over.
The fresh controversy adds an air of unpredictability over the 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT Monday) debate at Washington University in St. Louis, the second of three scheduled presidential debates as the long-running U.S. election contest enters its final weeks.
It will be a town hall-style debate with undecided voters posing half the questions and the debate’s two moderators posing the others.
His vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, said on Sunday that Trump needed to show contrition.
“We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night,” Pence said in a statement.
The crisis has put the Republican National Committee in a tight spot with less than a month to go until Election Day.
Trump would have to resign the nomination to allow Republican leaders to choose a successor, but the New York businessman is showing no signs of stepping down despite increasing calls from elected leaders for him to let Pence become the nominee.
“The media and establishment want me out of the race so badly – I WILL NEVER DROP OUT OF THE RACE, WILL NEVER LET MY SUPPORTERS DOWN!” Trump tweeted on Sunday from Trump Tower in New York.
At the first debate, on Sept. 26, Trump was repeatedly put on the defensive by Clinton. He never let her accusations go unanswered, and as a result he missed opportunities to use his speaking time to draw attention to Clinton’s perceived weaknesses.
Clinton has been hunkered down for days getting ready for what could be, for her, a knockout blow against Trump.
Clinton, who has already capitalized on Trump’s treatment of women, herself foreshadowed how she might respond to an attack from Trump on her marriage during a speech to a fundraiser in Washington on Wednesday.
“I feel it’s my responsibility not to defend myself against his attacks because, really, been there, done that,” she said. “I think it’s my responsibility to defend everybody else against his attacks,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd.