No one really expects Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or any of the most prominent Republican elected officials to actually renounce their support for Donald Trump, let alone endorse Hillary Clinton for president. If they haven't done so after a week in which he attacked a Gold Star family, and used the same argument to support Putin's annexation of Crimea that Adolf Hitler employed to justify taking over the Sudetenland, it's just not going to happen. These Republicans should be ashamed of themselves, and it's satisfying to think that, deep down, they are. But it's doubtful.
As long as it looks like Hillary will win comfortably, such Republican "leaders" will justify their continued support for Trump as a political necessity that will ultimately have no tangible impact. That's how they sleep at night. Why fall on a grenade unnecessarily, they probably tell themselves. They've failed the Dumbledore test, having chosen what is easy over what is right.
What would it take for one of these cowards to actually break from Trump? In all likelihood, they'd have to see hard evidence that their continued support for him is actually hurting them at the polls. Forget America First. For Ryan, McConnell, et. al., it's Me First.
Let's assume, for a moment, that Clinton wins. Does anyone think -- even if polling had consistently shown her leading Trump from now right through Election Day and she trounced him at the ballot box -- that would stop Trump from accusing her of having stolen the election? He's already laid the groundwork for making that accusation in an interview with the Washington Post that breaks new ground for irresponsibility -- and that's saying something.
RUCKER: You said yesterday that you worried the election might be rigged in some way.
RUCKER: What is your worry exactly?
TRUMP: I don't like what's going on with voter ID.
RUCKER: It would be what's happening in the states?
TRUMP: Well, I think its ridiculous. I mean the voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times. It's inconceivable that you don't have to show identification in order to vote or that that the identification doesn't have to be somewhat foolproof.
RUCKER: Although, there's a tradition in this country of when somebody loses an election, they concede graciously and try to get their supporters on board like Al Gore did in 2000. Would you? You know if some reason Hillary were to win narrowly, would you contest that in some way?
TRUMP: I don't want to jump the gun. I don't want to talk about that. I'm just saying that I wouldn't be surprised if the election . . . there's a lot of dirty pool played at the election, meaning the election is rigged. I would not be surprised. The voter ID, they're fighting as hard as you can fight so that that they don't have to show voter ID. So, what's the purpose of that? How many times is a person going to vote during the day? If you don't have voter ID . . .
RUCKER: Do you think someone can vote multiple times?
TRUMP: Multiple times. How about like 10 times. Why not? If you don't have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting.
Never mind how ridiculous such a claim is, or that voter fraud is so rare that UFO sightings occur more frequently. Since when does Donald Trump care about facts, anyway?
But what would happen if, after Hillary Clinton is declared the winner, Trump does say that he rejects the results and claims that the election was rigged, was stolen? Former Trump advisor Roger Stone predicted that Trump supporters would "not stand for it... It will be a bloodbath... We will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience."
The question is: What would Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell do then? Would they, could they, join Trump and take to the streets? Would they literally burn down the country? It's not likely, but the Brooks Brothers riot showed what even establishment Republicans are capable of. It's hard to rule anything out (on a related note, Roger Stone himself now regrets what he did for George W. Bush in Miami-Dade 16 years ago -- not on principle, mind you, but because he thinks Bush did a bad job as president).
Simply not participating in a Trump-led effort to overturn the election results won't cut it. If Trump really does try such a stunt, every single Republican official will be called on to take a public stand, one way or the other. If Republicans were to denounce such an effort en masse, and declare that they do accept the election results, that would likely cut Trump off at the knees. Even better, however, would be to tell him now, in no uncertain terms, that that is exactly what they'll do in such a scenario.
Maybe that's precisely what they are doing in private. If so, we may never know. Maybe there are a large number of Republican officials who do love their country more than their party, and are willing to actually do something when our democracy faces a danger like this. Maybe. Based on how the overwhelming majority have acted since Trump has become the nominee, it's hard to be optimistic.