Jack Welch, the former GE chief and a longtime Republican, pulled his support for Donald Trump on Saturday, as a defiant Trump insisted he would "never" abandon his White House bid.
Trump rejected a growing backlash from Republican leaders nationwide who disavowed the GOP's presidential nominee after he was caught on tape bragging about predatory advances on women.
Welch, who had publicly backed the real estate mogul, called for the party to find a new nominee as several top Republican leaders said they could no longer back Trump in light of a newly publicized audio clip from 11 years ago.
Welch's second wife, Jane Beasley, filed for divorce after learning he cheated on her with Suzy Wetlaufer, the former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review who was forced to resign after admitting to the affair.
The political firestorm was sparked by a 2005 video obtained and released Friday by The Washington Post and NBC News. In the video, Trump, who was married to his current wife at the time, is heard describing attempts to have sex with a married woman. He also brags about women letting him kiss them and grab their genitals because he is famous.
On Saturday, Arizona Republican senator and 2008 nominee John McCain also revoked his support, joining a clutch of top GOP leaders who are running away from Trump.
"Like Republican message on Economy, Security and Supreme Court...Unfortunately, wrong messenger...Party must change nominee now," Welch tweeted Saturday evening.
Trump's own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, declared he could neither condone nor defend Trump's remarks in a 2005 videotape that sparked panic inside Trump Tower and throughout the Republican Party with early voting already underway exactly one month before Election Day.
"We pray for his family," Pence said in a statement after canceling a Wisconsin appearance scheduled with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, both of whom had condemned Trump's remarks the day before but stopped short of withdrawing support altogether.
In a tweet on Sunday hours before the second presidential debate, Trump blasted party officials and candidates criticizing him as "self righteous hypocrites," who would go on to lose their elections.
A chorus of GOP officeholders from Utah to Alabama to New Hampshire decided the former reality television star's bombshell was too much to take. More than a dozen Republicans — senators, congressmen and sitting governors — announced Saturday they would not vote for Trump.
Among them was the party's 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had stood by Trump even after the billionaire questioned whether the former POW should be considered a war hero because he got "captured."
"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," McCain said in a statement. But given Trump's "behavior this week," McCain said, it is "impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy."
Many went farther and called on Trump to quit the race altogether.
"I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party," Alabama Rep. Martha Roby said in a statement. "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."
His party in chaos, Trump spent Saturday with a close circle of advisers in his campaign's midtown Manhattan headquarters. Among them: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said calls for Trump to bow out are simply the "wishful thinking of the Clinton campaign and those people who have opposed him for a long time."
Most of Trump's staff and network of supporters were left in the dark about the fast-moving developments. Conference calls were canceled and prominent supporters were given no guidance about how to respond to the explosive development, according to a person close to the Trump operation. The person insisted on anonymity, lacking the authority to discuss internal campaign matters publicly.
Trump addressed the dire situation on Saturday with a light-hearted tweet: "Certainly has been an interesting 24 hours!"
He later tweeted he would not yield the GOP nomination under any circumstances: "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!"
(Newsmax wire services contributed to this report).
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