Mike Pence might be in the biggest bind of all. On the one hand, Trump’s running mate turned in a widely-praised debate performance this week and showed himself to be an attractive spokesman for the party. On the other hand, well, he’s Trump’s running mate. Cruz and Rubio and anyone else angling ahead of 2020 has the realistic option of cutting bait; Pence does not. It’s an impossible position for the Indiana governor. He’s known as an old school, consummate gentleman — Pence wouldn’t let female staffers work late in his office on Capitol Hill to avoid even the appearance of impropriety — and is surely steaming at Trump’s recorded remarks. But at the same time, Pence has shown no willingness to buck the top of the ticket. Should he decide to take his own shot in 2020, this puts him in an extraordinarily difficult position, especially because some conservatives believe that his decision to partner with Trump renders him ineligible for their consideration in the first place.
There’s one Republican who’s a virtual lock to run for president in 2020 and who’s never supported Trump: John Kasich. He issued his own rebuke via Twitter on Friday night: “Make no mistake the comments were wrong and offensive. They are indefensible.” The Ohio governor has been so adamant in his opposition to Trump that he boycotted the party’s convention in his own backyard. That rubbed many Republicans the wrong way, but Trump’s collapse could certainly vindicate him — and, in the eyes of the party’s upscale, college-educated wing, it could make him the early favorite to face off against Clinton four years from now.
More than any individual politician, it’s the Republican party that stands to suffer most from Trump’s controversies after he leaves the campaign trail. It’s one thing to lose an election and cede control of the White House to the opposition party for four more years; it’s another for the GOP to be branded as the Party of Trump. Republicans across the spectrum have spent the past six months assuring themselves that it won’t happen, that it can’t happen, that parties take on the personality of their nominees every four years and that Trump will be remembered as an aberration and nothing more.
Perhaps. But after a campaign in which the GOP nominee gave unprecedented offense — calling Mexicans “rapists,” ridiculing John McCain for being captured, mocking a disabled reporter, proposing a ban on Muslim immigrants, launching racist attacks on a federal judge, feuding with a Gold Star family, and now, having “Grab them by the p***y” played on TV ads — it’s unlikely that Democrats will be letting go anytime soon. And Republicans who continue to stand by Trump aren’t giving them reason to. One month from Election Day, it seems likely that Trump’s lasting legacy — in addition to losing — will be saddling the GOP with baggage for years to come.