It was just before 4 p.m. in the nation’s capital when the Washington Postpublished an “October surprise” for the ages.
Fahrenthold’s story told of an exclusively obtained audio recording of Trump, 11 years earlier and newly married, boasting of his sexual exploits to television host Billy Bush. The two were riding together on a bus, preparing to shoot a segment for the NBC show Access Hollywood, when Trump recalled how he’d once tried to sleep with Bush’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell.
“I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily,” Trump said on the tape. “In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’ I took her out furniture—I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”
Then, when the two men spotted a young woman awaiting them outside the bus—actress Arianne Zucker—Trump told Bush, “I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
Trump added, “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The fallout was apocalyptic.
House Speaker Paul Ryan had been scheduled to make his first joint appearance with Trump the next morning at Fall Fest, the annual beer-and-bratwurst political rally in his district. Preparing to speak at a fundraiser for a congressman in Cleveland, Ryan was pulled aside by his longtime aide, Kevin Seifert, who showed him the story. Ryan, the Boy Scout, burst into a fit of cursing just outside a roomful of wealthy donors.
He phoned Priebus immediately. “He cannot come here,” Ryan said. “You need to tell him.”
Priebus relayed this to Trump, who promptly shot the messenger. “Oh no,” the Republican nominee replied, “I’m coming.”
The party chairman called Ryan back with Trump’s reaction. “You’re gonna have to publicly disinvite him, Paul.”
“Fine, then he’s disinvited. He ain’t coming,” the speaker said, raising his voice to Priebus for the first time in their decades-long relationship. “This isn’t something I’m intimidated by.”…
A short while later, Ryan’s office blasted out a news release saying he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks and announcing the presidential candidate’s banishment from the Wisconsin event. Priebus understood but was nonetheless distraught. He had started Fall Fest years ago as the Wisconsin GOP chairman. Saturday’s event was supposed to be a homecoming for him and a harmonious breakthrough for the party. All of them—Priebus, Trump, Ryan—were meant to take the stage together, at long last projecting a united front entering the final weeks of the campaign.
Up until that point, despite Trump’s self-destructive antics, Priebus believed his party had a chance. Clinton was so deeply flawed, and the Democratic base had been made so complacent by the combination of her candidacy and eight years in power, that Priebus clung to the belief that Trump somehow, in some way, might just win the White House.
Everything changed when he heard the Access Hollywood tape.