Things are moving fast since Jazz’s post just 90 minutes ago. This just spilled onto social media as I’m writing this:
— Betsy Klein (@betsy_klein) October 8, 2016
A WaPo reporter claims sources are telling him that Pence’s team is “absolutely apoplectic” at the tape and “inconsolable.” Really? Are they mad that the tape revealed Trump for who he is or mad that he got caught? Because they surely knew who he was before yesterday.
A few minutes before Pence’s statement was released, this broke:
Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately.
— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) October 8, 2016
Thune isn’t just a senator, he’s the chairman of the Senate Republican conference. He’s the first member of the Republican leadership to head for the lifeboats. Thune’s colleague, Kelly Ayotte, who’s stuck in a tight race in New Hampshire, pulled her support from Trump a few hours ago. Two congressmen from deep-red Alabama, Bradley Byrne and Martha Roby, have also abandoned ship, which tells you how far the party fears the backlash might spread electorally. Virtually every prominent Republican in Utah apart from Orrin Hatch — Mike Lee, Jason Chaffetz, and Gov. Gary Herbert — had pulled the plug on Trump before I went to bed last night, further imperiling Trump in a state where he’s been polling far below traditional Republican expectations. Donors are also whispering to the media that it’s time for Trump to vamoose and that they’re looking for ways to replace him. If the RNC could wave a magic wand today and swap Mike Pence in for Trump as nominee, especially after his solid debate last week, the support among congressional Republicans for the move would be close to unanimous.
The relevant party rule is Rule 9:
(a) The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.
I read that the same way a law prof who spoke to WaPo reads it, that it allows the RNC to fill a vacancy but not to forcibly replace a nominee. The rule explicitly mentions “vacancies,” for one thing, and “death, declination, or otherwise” suggests that the Committee is empowered to act only when the nominee has ceded the nomination somehow. If the party wants Trump out and Pence in, they need to convince Trump to leave “voluntarily” first — and he was clear this morning that he won’t do that. The RNC could amend the rules to let them replace the nominee for any reason, but that would take time. They could also, I guess, read the word “otherwise” broadly and argue that the rule already empowers them to dump the nominee for any reason, but if it does that Trump might just be crazy enough to sue them to hold onto his nomination. Imagine that spectacle in the last few weeks before the election — the Republican Party and its own nominee battling in court over whether it’s legally entitled to purge him. Even if the RNC won the suit, which I assume it would (it’s their rules, after all), the bloodbath would only drive Trump’s polls down further and seal the party’s fate. If they’re going to lose with Trump either way, what’s the point of trying to shove him towards the exit? How many downballot Republicans who’d otherwise lose their races because of Trump will be rescued by a sensational RNC courtroom victory to oust him at the last minute before the election as the party implodes?
There are logistical problems to dumping Trump too, as WaPo notes:
The bigger problem, though, is that voting has already begun. Or, to be more accurate, that it’s too late to get Trump off the ballot. Every state has rules guiding how and when candidates can be added to or removed from the ballot. Why? For one reason because the ballots have to be printed and the mechanics of the election put into place…
The only other possibility is that the Republicans attempt an extremely unusual legal approach, as noted in August by ThinkProgress. The president is elected not by us, but by the members of the electoral college. In many states the electors’ votes are legally bound to the popular vote in one way or another, but in some states they’re not.
Let’s say, then, that the voters in Georgia cast their ballots for Trump with the understanding that the electors would then cast a ballot for Republican X. It would be hard for X to hit the necessary 270 electoral votes in that way, since in some states the results would still be bound to Trump. Unless, ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser notes, the party challenged the constitutionality of rules binding electors. So that plan, then: the GOP convinces people to vote for Trump with the understanding that electors would vote for someone else — illegally in some places — and the Supreme Court would then approve the plan. Seems unlikely.
Somehow the GOP would need to convince undecideds to go to the polls and cast a ballot for Trump in the expectation that the vote will be counted for Mike Pence, either as an actual vote or merely as a symbolic way of encouraging the state’s electors to vote for Pence if the “Trump” line on the ballot gets the most votes statewide. But that’s stupid, because “Trump” a.k.a. Pence isn’t going to get enough votes in enough states to threaten Clinton’s glide path to the presidency. Some Trumpers would refuse to vote for Pence as a protest against the RNC for casting their hero aside. (Reportedly Paul Ryan is getting a taste of that today.) Some anti-Trumpers would refuse to vote for Pence because they see him as deeply complicit in legitimizing Trumpism. Some voters across various parties would refuse to vote for Pence purely to punish the GOP for this gigantic mess. And some voters wouldn’t vote for Pence because they don’t pay attention and will have missed the whole “a vote for ‘Trump’ is a vote for Pence” message by the RNC. Pence would get squashed by Clinton. But realistically, if Trump does vacate the nomination under tremendous pressure, Pence is the party’s only option as a replacement. (Per WaPo, there’s chatter at this hour of a Pence/Carson ticket if Trump quits.) The only alternatives with comparable name recognition, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, are both loathed by Trumpers and would be boycotted by many of them, giving the party zero chance of victory. The only figure right now who could get votes from Trump fans and from conservatives is Trump’s own handpicked conservative VP. It would have to be Pence. But he won’t win.
Doesn’t matter, though. As a Trump campaign official said last night of the big guy, “As far as I know, we are stuck with him.” In the half-hour I’ve been writing this post, two more big-name Republicans have dumped Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kasich, the latter no doubt with an eye to doing what he can to help downballot GOPers distance themselves from Trump. That’s half the reason for the giant public pile-on today, to beg voters via as many Republican officials as possible not to blame other GOP candidates for Trump’s sins by voting for Democrats. (The other half of the reason, of course, is to try to shame Trump into dropping out. Good luck with that.) But maybe there’s opportunism to it too, not just in taking advantage of this scandal to dump Trump after his polls had already begun to decline but to get off the Trump Train now before even more damaging oppo is leaked that blows up the train entirely:
Nicholas Kristof of the Times has a column out today, exquisitely timed for tomorrow’s debate, recounting the story of Jill Harth, who claims Trump groped her more than once during the 1990s when she met with him to talk business. Erin Burnett of CNN casually mentioned on air last night that a friend of hers claims Trump once tried to kiss her. If Ben Carson knows for a fact that more oppo is coming, it must mean that newspapers already have it, have drafted stories about it, and have contacted the campaign for comment about it before publishing it. It could drop at any second, probably before the debate tomorrow just to maximize Trump’s discomfit. This is only going to get worse and many Republicans knows it, which is why they’re bailing en masse now.
Speaking of tomorrow, Team Trump is whispering to the media that he’s going to push back hard at the debate by going nuclear on Bill Clinton for his own mistreatment of women, which will please his fans at least. What does Trump say, though, when Hillary inevitably comes back at him with this? “Donald, you invited us to your wedding, you played golf with Bill many times, and you donated thousands of dollars to my campaign, all years after my husband had been accused of these things. You’ve said many nice things about both of us since Bill left office. Were you lying then or are you lying now?” It’s bad enough that the attacks on Bill risk making Hillary look sympathetic, but they might also make Trump look like — shudder — a Democrat.
Here’s Mike Lee’s Facebook video from last night savaging Trump. Offhand, I believe Lee, Ben Sasse, and Jeff Flake were the only Republican senators who emphatically refused to endorse Trump from the beginning. Incidentally, news just dropped via Business Insider that some RNC staffers are allegedly “defying orders” to continue working to elect Trump and are focusing now only on downballot races instead. Anything could happen over the next 30 or so hours before the debate — Trump could quit, Pence could quit, Reince could quit, some new tape could drop, you name it. Don’t wander far from a TV or computer. Exit question: When does Ted Cruz, who finally endorsed Trump after he got into hot water politically for initially refusing to do so, decide to un-endorse because the the water’s now too hot in the Trump camp too?
Update: The small silver lining for Trump in all of this is that he’s all teed up now for a “yuuuuge Trump comeback!” narrative after the debate tomorrow night. The bad news is that if that narrative doesn’t materialize, the party really might cut him loose next week. This is a lurch in that direction:
The Republican National Committee on Saturday appeared to at least temporarily halt the operations of some of the “Victory” program that is devoted to electing Donald Trump…
“Please put a hold/stop on all mail projects right now. If something is in production or print it needs to stop. Will update you when to proceed,” Lauren Toomey, a staffer in the RNC’s political department, wrote in an email that was obtained by POLITICO.
The email was sent to at least one RNC victory program vendor. Rick Wiley, a top RNC official, was cc’d on the email.
I used to think we were destined for a trainwreck October in which Trump trailed far behind Clinton, the RNC dumped him, and then he spent most of the month attacking Priebus, Ryan, and the rest of the “rigged system” for supposedly sabotaging his campaign. He would need a stabbed-in-the-back storyline to scapegoat someone else for his own failures. But Trump hung in there all summer and was basically tied in the polls with Clinton before the debate two weeks ago, suggesting a more traditional October in which the party was united for victory. Now it looks like we’re going to get a trainwreck after all. Forget the debate tomorrow; Trump’s next rally will be amazing.