By Tina Nguyen Vanity Fair Oct 11
DONALD TRUMP was headed toward overwhelming defeat at the polls even before the release of a 2005 Access Hollywood video showing him bragging about groping women without their consent.
Now, in the wake of another underwhelming debate performance Sunday in which the Republican nominee defended his lewd comments by essentially accusing Hillary Clinton, without evidence, of facilitating sexual abuse by her husband, G.O.P. leadership is grappling with how to lose the presidential election with their dignity intact—and without Trump’s scandals imperiling their increasingly tenuous grip on the Senate.
With Senate Republicans panicking that Trump’s unpopularity could increase the odds of a Democratic sweep, Mitch McConnell is instructing vulnerable colleagues to steer clear of the flailing G.O.P. nominee, The Hill reports citing party sources.
McConnell has kept a lower profile than his House counterpart, Speaker Paul Ryan, who recently announced that he would no longer “defend Trump” (though he did not un-endorse him). But the Senate majority leader is doing damage control of his own, reportedly telling Republicans who are up for re-election to do what is best for themselves. “We’re advising the same thing we have all along. Run your own race,” one G.O.P. aide told The Hill.
Fears that Trump could hurt Republican candidates down the ballot have also deepened in recent days with the release of several new polls that show the G.O.P. nominee headed for a landslide loss in November.
On Monday, as Ryan held a conference call in which he implored House Republicans to “do what’s best for you in your district,” NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released a new poll showing Clinton a whopping 11 points ahead of Trump in a four-way race including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, and 14 points ahead in a two-way race.
Rasmussen reported that Clinton now holds her “biggest lead ever,” 45-38, in a four-way race, while Politico found similar results in a poll taken on Saturday—before a wave of Republican senators and congressmen publicly repudiated Trump.
Politico notes that in modern American history, no presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1980 has ever overcome a four-point deficit in October.
Trump, according to NBC and the Journal, is down by double digits.
All this has left the Republican Party in a tough spot. Aligning themselves too closely with Trump forces them to own his many scandals—a dicey proposition amid rampant rumors that more damning video or audio recordings like the Access Hollywood tape are on the way. But disowning the divisive billionaire carries serious risks, too.
The Trump campaign has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to go to war with fellow Republicans it deems disloyal, like Ryan, who Trump tweeted “should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.”
Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson similarly suggested that the campaign was just winning at the expense of the party, if it comes to that. “I can’t keep my phone charged due to the mass volume of texts from people all over the country who will #VoteTrump but [down] ballot not so much,” she tweeted Monday.
Anecdotal evidence suggests Pierson is right: as The New York Times reports, many Trump supporters say they are perfectly willing to vote against their local Republican lawmakers in order to punish anti-Trump politicians they see as members of a corrupt establishment.
The Republican National Committee, which fund-raises and controls spending for both Trump and dozens of congressional races, is not unaware that it is in a vice.
But after flirting with pulling financial support for the presidential nominee, the R.N.C. appears to have made its choice. For now, the R.N.C. and the Trump campaign are maintaining a fragile peace: Priebus announced in a conference call Monday that the committee was standing by their candidate, and in turn, the Trump team fired their Virginia campaign chair for protesting the R.N.C.’s headquarters.
For the R.N.C., this might be the wise choice: while other party elites are running for the hills, Politico polling finds that 74 percent of G.O.P. voters want leadership to support their own candidate, and only 13 percent agreed that they should drop Trump.
Priebus is staying on the Trump train—even if an impending derailment takes a few vulnerable senators with him.