Republican-logoThe Iowa GOP’s chairman opened a party fundraiser tonight by admitting Republicans are “bummed out” by the news swirling this weekend about lewd comments Donald Trump made about women, but Jeff Kaufmann and the state party’s top elected leaders remain steadfast in their support of the New York businessman.

“Donald Trump’s comments that he made 11 years ago, I condemn them,” Kaufmann said. “I find them disgusting and I find them highly inappropriate and I condemned them when Bill Clinton did those kind of actions and I condemn them now when Donald Trump said them. You have to be consistent if you’re sincere about condemning things of that nature.”

Kaufmann praised the crowd for “showing up” and they responded with vigorous applause whenever any speaker, including Kaufmann, castigated Clinton.

“So folks, my message to you is quite simple,” Kaufmann said. “We’ve had a few rough spots. A few of us are a little bummed out right now, but you know what? We’ve got a lot to fight for…We are going to fight for the next four weeks, period — and that’s the message for our media.”

AUDIO of Kaufmann’s opening remarks, 6:26

Kaufmann was one of 10 speakers at the event. Only three of them said the name “Donald Trump” aloud. The evening began with a somber prayer from Steve Scheffler, Iowa’s Republican National Committeeman.

“Lord, help us not to be distracted by all the noise and the negativity,” Scheffler prayed,”but to keep focused first of all on you and your righteousness, so that when we approach people that may disagree with us, that we may do it with love and respect.”

Neither Senator Chuck Grassley nor Senator Joni Ernst mentioned Trump’s name.

AUDIO of Grassley, then Ernst speaking to crowd, 18:41

Ernst sent a tweet Saturday morning, saying there was “no excuse” for Trump’s remarks. Grassley issued a written statement, calling Trump’s comments “shameful” and his apology “necessary and appropriate.” Ernst seemed to acknowledge the controversy as she began speaking to tonight’s crowd.

“We’ve had quite a weekend, haven’t we?” Ernst said.

Ernst was asked by reporters as she entered the room if she would still vote for Trump and her response was she will not vote for Hillary Clinton. Ernst’s Senate colleague, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, was the event’s keynote speaker and he went farther than any other speaker in his critique of Trump.

Cotton said Trump has let the GOP down “again.”

“The words on that tape were demeaning and they were shameful,” Cotton said and, as he continued, one woman yelled “Impeach Hillary” and others grew agitated. “Donald Trump doesn’t have much of a choice at this point. Tomorrow night at that debate, he needs to throw himself on the mercy of the American people. He needs to take full responsibility for his words and his actions and he needs to beg for their forgiveness and he needs to pledge that he’s going to finally change his ways.”

If Trump will not act contrite, Cotton said Trump needs to consider stepping aside so an “elder statesman” may run in his place. That declaration was initially greeted with silence, then many in the crowd applauded.

AUDIO of Cotton’s remarks about Trump, 1:54

Iowa’s governor spoke with reporters before the event began and denounced Trump’s comments, but Terry Branstad remains committed to voting for Trump.

“What he said was reprehensible and I’m glad he apologized for it,” Branstad told reporters. “But I think it’s important we recognize what’s at stake in this country. We cannot continue the status quo.”

Branstad’s son, Eric, is state director for the Trump campaign, but Eric Branstad was in Wisconsin rather than at tonight’s event in Des Moines. Governor Branstad, however, mentioned Trump’s name just once during his remarks to the crowd.

AUDIO of Branstad’s remarks at Reagan Dinner, 13:49

Brad Boustead of Urbandale acknowledged tonight’s event seemed subdued.

“We’ve got stuff hanging over our heads from this last week and Republicans want principled candidates, so that puts us back on our heels.” Boustead said, but added that Republicans “would get back to work” electing Republican candidates.

John Thompson, a member of the Republican Party’s state central committee, said he knocked on 150 doors in Cedar Rapids today before driving to Des Moines for tonight’s banquet. He’s optimistic this weekend’s upheaval is a mere blip in the give-and-take of an unusual campaign.

“I think the energy’s still there,” Thompson said. “…He’s be a much better commander-in-chief than she would be.”

The Clinton campaign in Iowa released a letter co-signed by four mothers as a response to the GOP’s evening event.

“The language Trump uses to describe women is not just shocking and hurtful, but disqualifies him for the presidency,” the letter says. “…Trump continues to divide the country with his hateful rhetoric, volatile temperament, and demeaning views toward women and too many Americans.”

The Des Moines Register released an “Iowa Poll” this evening showing Trump with a four-point lead in Iowa, 43 to 39 percent. The survey ended just before the revelations of Trump’s 2005 lewd comments during a tape-recorded conversation with an entertainment reporter.