Here’s an interesting photo. The guy on the left looks strikingly like Reince Priebus. But … it can’t be Reince, can it?

Is that the same Reince Priebus whose RNC temporarily suspended Trump’s Victory project yesterday, and who reportedly told Republican officials to start spending funds earmarked for Trump on downballot Republicans instead? The same Reince Priebus who supposedly said this?

Why, that doesn’t compute at all. If the RNC is in the process of dumping Trump, a public show of support from the chairman makes no sense — unless something’s happened very recently to make him reconsider.

Perhaps something has happened:

Reince has a dilemma on top of a dilemma. The basic dilemma is that congressional Republicans are caught between Trumpers on the one hand and the other two-thirds of American voters on the other and they can’t afford to alienate either. If they stick with Trump, as Marco Rubio has done, they’ll get pounded by Democrats for refusing to say that Trump’s tape is disqualifying. If they dump Trump, as Kelly Ayotte has done, they’ll get pounded by Trump fans for refusing to stick with the nominee in crunch time, especially when Hillary Clinton’s husband has been accused of worse behavior. They’ll lose votes no matter what they do — although they’ve been living with that reality since Trump effectively clinched the nomination in May. That’s why the party didn’t move against him at the convention, of course. They knew that there are enough Trump diehards out there to guarantee a Republican loss by staying home en masse if he was replaced as nominee. So they chose to stick with him, knowing how flawed he was, on the theory that him losing to Hillary was almost guaranteed — slightly better odds. They’re effectively hostages to his movement and have been for months. What changed in the last 48 hours since the tape was released is that defeat with Trump now seems as guaranteed as defeat without him would be. That’s why so man Republican incumbents suddenly feel free to cut him loose. The basic dilemma has essentially been resolved: If Clinton’s win is now assured, why stick with Trump a moment longer?

The dilemma on top of that dilemma, though, is that Trump himself has begun hinting that he’ll pound Ayotte et al. in public for deserting him, which will accelerate the exodus of Trumpers from disloyal Republicans, dooming their candidacies. Ayotte was destined to lose votes from Trump fans the moment she issued her statement yesterday declaring she wouldn’t vote for him, but maybe not a fatal number. She’s led by six and eight points in two recent polls of New Hampshire, after all. If, however, Trump starts using his megaphone to encourage his fans to punish Ayotte by not voting for her, then all bets are off. The RNC wouldn’t have faced that problem with any other nominee because everyone else who ran this year is an actual Republican. If a different nominee ended up in a Trump situation where defeat seemed all but assured in October — highly unlikely given Clinton’s manifest weaknesses — he would have understood why downballot Republicans were distancing themselves and wouldn’t have retaliated for it. But Trump doesn’t care about electing Republicans and never has — he’s all but admitted it, in fact — so he’s happy to threaten to burn down the party around him if Priebus et al. don’t bow down and show him support now. So Reince is playing out the string on this hostage situation. He’s on the plane with Trump. He’ll say some nice things about Trump’s performance tonight. Anything to keep that book of matches out of Trump’s hands.

Needless to say, if Trump fans cared as much about the Supreme Court or blocking amnesty as they’ve claimed to over the past six months in attacking #NeverTrumpers for refusing to support him, they’d be enraged at Trump for threatening to sink downballot Republicans out of pique. Ayotte may be trying to save herself at Trump’s expense, but saving herself helps preserve some leverage over Clinton next year. The Senate is at great risk of being lost, and with it any leverage over Hillary’s Court nominees; the House might be in trouble too, which would clear the way for liberal-style immigration reform next year. If the tape has destroyed what little chance Trump has left of winning, he should be going all out to boost congressional Republicans to check Clinton — if, that is, this really is the “Flight 93 election” that Trumpers keep claiming it is. But he isn’t. On the contrary. This has always been a revenge fantasy, both for him and for many of his hardcore supporters, much more so than a policy argument (apart from “the wall”) and it’d be far more gratifying from a revanchist perspective, I’m sure, to hand total control of government to Democrats knowing that it’ll make Paul Ryan cry than doing what one can to salvage congressional majorities.

In fact, here’s something I wrote on May 28th. If you’re tempted to feel sympathy for any downballot Republican who’s now facing Trump’s wrath because they thought a “grab them by the p***y” tape was problematic, resist the urge. This was all foreseeable:

The RNC might be forced to choose circa October 10th whether to keep pumping money into Trump or to effectively concede the general election and use the money for a late push to save the Senate. They’re going to be hit with a “dolchstoss” narrative from hardcore Trumpers no matter what they do if he loses, but cutting him loose will make it much worse. Which means, no matter how much Reince may want to believe the GOP is building goodwill with Trump voters by being loyal soldiers for him, he’s kidding himself if Trump ends up losing. In a true worst-case scenario, in fact, I can imagine Trump down six points in late October and setting aside time at his rallies to attack the RNC — the entity running his ground game — for hanging him out to dry. You might read that and laugh at the idea that a presidential nominee would dump on his own national party apparatus in the home stretch of a national campaign. Let me remind you: There’s nothing that comes easier to Trump than dumping on Republicans, even when he has nothing to gain and something to lose by doing so.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Trump will lose much in the polls because of the tape. Realistically, 35 percent is probably as low as a major-party nominee can go and he’s already at 38-40 in some places. Most of the people who are still with him are there either because they’re diehard anti-establishment and/or anti-Clinton or because they view Trump as a national savior. Nothing is going to soften their support — although don’t hold to me that if there really are more, and worse, Trump tapes to come. But he does have some soft supporters and he might lose a few of them now, especially among Republican women who might not have been crazy about him to begin with but were willing to vote party line to this point. Conversely, there will be some Democrats and independents who deeply dislike Clinton and were prepared to stay home in November until the tape dropped, and now will turn out to vote against him. But that’s marginalia. The poisonous thing about the tape, and where I respectfully disagree with Jazz, is that it probably caps his support where it is now. The debates were supposed to be a golden opportunity for Trump to make the “change versus the status quo” argument to a gigantic audience of undecided voters, to move the election past his character and turn the vote into a referendum on populism versus Clintonism. Now they’re going to end up as a pissing match over whether Trump or Bill Clinton is a bigger reprobate. Which undecideds will be converted by that? The story of the last two weeks of polling, ever since the first debate, is that Trump already looks likely to lose and badly needs a strong performance tonight to turn that around. Even if the tape doesn’t cost him a single vote that he already has, he’s cooked if it prevents him from gaining any new ones. That’s probably where we are now. If new tapes drops, it’s certainly where we are.