Elected female members of the Republican Party’s national governing body, joined by state lawmakers and county-level party officials, are rallying to Donald Trump’s side.
“I am still solidly behind Mr. Trump,” said Minnesota state Sen. Carrie L. Rudd, a Republican. “Why are we even talking about locker-room comments from 11 years ago when there are so many important issues at hand? The people who supported Trump still do.”
The Republican women began to circle the wagons around their party’s presidential nominee after a string of big names loudly parted company with Mr. Trump in the wake of a press-led attack involving leaked live-microphone sexual comments by him about women.
“Those that are jumping ship are establishment GOP that never supported him in the first place,” Mrs. Rudd said.
Some female lawmakers and party officials said Mr. Trump’s lewd comments managed to alienate more women, but those who remained on his side spelled out what he needed to do to recover in the town hall debate Sunday night in St. Louis with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t approve of what Trump said, but he apologized, and Hillary was able to accept Bill Clinton’s apology for doing far worse actions toward women,” said Keiko Orrall, who was elected to the Republican National Committee by the party’s central committee in Massachusetts.
“We need to move forward focusing on issues and policies each campaign brings to the table in a difficult election with flawed candidates,” Mrs. Orrall said.
Demetra DeMonte, an RNC member from Illinois and former national secretary of the RNC, led the female Trump brigade’s counterattack by dispatching a letter to the other 167 RNC members reasserting her support for Mr. Trump.
“Donald J. Trump is not going to step down — nor should he,” Mrs. DeMonte wrote. “He is our lawfully elected nominee.”
She argued that she does not condone the “inappropriate language” Mr. Trump used while talking with “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush in 2005 — unaware that the microphones they were wearing were recording their lewd conversation about women — but the billionaire developer was “not the first nor will he be the last to utter foul language in the privacy of their home or locker rooms.”
Mr. Trump spoke the words while exiting a vehicle that had just pulled up to a Hollywood movie lot.
His distaff supporters generally went out of their way to balance their distaste for the language in the leaked tapes while labeling the Trump deserters the moral equivalent of “rat finks.”
“I want to make it very clear that I do not in any way condone the words Donald Trump used over 10 years ago,” said Janet Beihoffer, a Republican National Committee member from Minnesota. “They are despicable, disgusting and divisive. However, we are a nation without leadership. We cannot allow locker room guy talk to distract us from America’s real problems.”
Mrs. Beihoffer refused to join the anti-Trump chorus and instead lit into Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, saying, “Hillary Clinton, a lying and failed secretary of state, has jeopardized our national security secrets and weakened America’s positions throughout the world. Those actions are far more deplorable than anything Donald Trump has said. He deserves our vote on Nov. 8.”
The Trump defenders could be found deep within the local party ranks.
“I am infuriated by anybody jumping ship because of antique locker room talk,” said Vicki Sciolaro, chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party’s 3rd Congressional District and an evangelical Christian. “The majority of men do it, and all would be mortified if others heard their bloviated stories.”
Mrs. Sciolaro said Mr. Trump “has to change the conversation to Bill Clinton. Apparently, all the immoral things Bill has done Hillary condones, so what’s the big deal about Trump’s locker room talk?”
Some female members of the Republican National Committee condemned the words but not the man.
A self-described conservative Christian activist had some measured words about what Mr. Trump should do.
“My suggestion is for ‘The Don’ to use the words ‘locker room talk’ and ‘sorry’ a lot,” said Kim Bengard, founder of It Takes a Family Foundation in San Clemente, California. “And maybe he slips in a phrase about him and Bill Clinton accidentally ass-slapping some hot broads — wait, no, never mind. That video will show up soon enough.”
Mrs. Bengard, a Christian conservative activist, appears less than fond of a particular cable news channel.
“BTW, to see CNN — Clinton News Network — fake as though the campaign is imploding is beyond laughable,” said Mrs. Bengard. “They cover for Clintons, yet they know worse. Watching their fake hysteria is pukeworthy.”
Mrs. DeMonte, the Illinois RNC member, said Mrs. Clinton’s comments Saturday expressing disgust with her opponent’s language was like Capt. Renault in “Casablanca” claiming that he is “shocked, shocked” that gambling was going on in Rick’s Cafe.
“Hillary,” Mrs. DeMonte said, is “the consummate hypocrite, who while first lady barraged her own Secret Service detail with unspeakably foul language — the very same men who put their lives on the line for hers. Such hypocrisy.”
Some Republican women were as candidly pessimistic about the outcome of Mr. Trump’s “lewd-gate” as they were dismissive of the shock they said panicky Republicans were feigning over revelations of Trump’s hot-mic word choices.
“I’ve heard all the locker room trash talk before, since we ‘liberated’ women are of the era that tolerated it in entertainment and to a certain extent the ‘Mad Men’ scene of the 1950s and ‘60s,” said Mary Ann Meloy, a Pennsylvania delegate to the Republican National Convention, former Reagan White House official and resident of the upscale Pittsburgh suburb Fox Chapel.
“But,” she added, “it never presented itself this way, and I just know we will lose even Fox Chapel because of women’s votes.”
Losing the chance to regain the White House isn’t all that’s at stake for Republicans, whose 54-vote U.S. Senate majority may be endangered by a Clinton landslide win.
“We will lose [Sen. Patrick J.] Toomey,” Mrs. Meloy said. “I am not a fan of his, but it could mean control of the Senate. I do not feel very confident. Seems whatever Trump says outweighs whatever Hillary does — even her criminal acts.”
Mrs. DeMonte said party leaders should compare the two candidates’ full records in the wake of the controversy.
“Mr. Trump may be guilty of uttering foul language, but Hillary is guilty of committing foul deeds — deeds — if she were anyone else would have resulted in prison time,” said Mrs. DeMonte, referring to the deletion of “thousands of documents which she knew was illegal” and refusing “multiple cries for help from our ambassador that resulted in his murder, along with three brave Americans” in Benghazi, Libya.
Mrs. DeMonte averred that Mrs. Clinton as a lawyer “laughed when she got off a rapist of a 12-year-old girl — while knowing all along her client was guilty of rape. That is on tape, too.” Why, she asked don’t the news media “play that audio?”
Most Republican women dismiss the idea pushed by anti-Trump members of their own party and by many in the press that vice presidential nominee Mike Pence can somehow take over the top spot on the ballot.
“The dump-Trumpers are just delusional,” Mrs. Bengard said. “It won’t happen. The angry voter loves him and won’t settle for Pence. And as much as I love Pence and believe he would do a good job, I just don’t think he can beat the Clinton machine. I wish he could.”
Mrs. Rudd summed up the defenders’ stand by recalling why Mr. Trump defeated 16 more politically experienced competitors for the Republican nomination.
“We are counting on Trump to change Washington, and the establishment will do anything to stop him, but where is all the disgust for Hillary and her behavior and the blood on her hands?”
“Go Trump!” she said.