Co-Authored by Maclen Zilber, Democratic Strategist and Campaign Consultant based in Hollywood, CA
Hear that rumbling, thumping noise off in the distance? It's the sound of a mass migration of GOP leaders hastily stampeding away from Donald Trump.
Nearly a third of Republican U.S. Senators have stated in the past 72 hours that they oppose Donald Trump's candidacy. That doesn't make them brave, it makes them hypocritical and cynical political opportunists.
Donald Trump's revelations of the, err, feline variety, as well as the more recent revelations from old Howard Stern tapes are horrifying, deplorable and disgusting. The idea that Donald Trump is this type of person isn't new, however. The only new thing is the faux GOP outrage about it, which is coming, uh, 15-plus months too late.
Republicans were perfectly willing to stand by a man who said women were pigs and dogs, who insinuated that FOX News host Megyn Kelly was on her menstrual cycle, who has repeatedly and disturbingly made sexual comments about his own daughter, who said women should be punished for abortion and then picked the Abortion-Punisher-in-Chief, Governor Mike Pence, as his Vice Presidential nominee.
More than that, these Republican leaders have been in the same room as Donald Trump. They have eyes. They have ears. None of these recent revelations should have come as a surprise to them.
Republicans who are just now moving away from Trump aren't courageous -they're simply doing it for perceived tactical reasons for a Party on political life support. Their actions throughout this cycle show that they could care less about Trump. The reality is that they care about getting Senators and Representatives elected down-ballot, and a critical mass of the GOP leaders are just now starting to believe that moving away from Trump is the best way to save Republicans down-ballot.
It may be tactical, but it won't work. Here are three reasons why.
Trump has real supporters, believe it or not.
Trump didn't become his party's nominee by accident (citation needed). Like he often notes on the campaign trail, he has built a genuine movement comprised of millions of fervent supporters, or, as some call them, the fringe alt-right, and the most radical and extreme elements of the Republican Party.
If Trump is pushed aside, drops out, and is replaced by some traditional conservative like Pence, many of Trump's most zealous supporters, who already believe the system is rigged against them, will be apoplectic. Many won't vote. The most hardcore of Trump supporters aren't exactly ordinary Republicans, but most of them would be voting for their Party's nominees down ballot. If they feel disenfranchised by their candidate leaving the ticket, these voters may feel like they have no reason to show up and vote for down-ballot Republicans.
Republicans are afraid of their own voters.
Among almost every condemnation and endorsement retraction we have seen over the last 72 hours has included an important caveat:
"I also will not vote for Hillary Clinton."
And there's the rub. According to a POLITICO poll released in the aftermath of the Trump Tapes, only 12% of Republicans believe Trump should end his campaign, and 74% say the Party should stand by him. Republican politicians understand that if they are too vocal in their support or opposition of Donald Trump, they'll alienate a sizable slice of the electorate.
Even worse for the GOP is the sheer fact that there is no path to 50% for a Republican without winning the lion's share of Trump supporters. Republicans can condemn Trump, and they can even retract their support (and meekly say they don't know who they're going to vote for), but they can't go after him as fervently as the broader public would like to see because they know that almost their entire base still thinks that Hillary Clinton is the worse of two evils.
Trump will still be on the ballot even if he drops out, literally and figuratively
Regardless of what Trump decides to do, ballots across the county already have Trump's name seared onto them. In California, for example, millions and millions of Trump infused ballots are being mailed out to absentee voters this coming Tuesday. Likewise, in numerous important swing states, hundreds of thousands of early votes are already being cast for Trump.
This isn't quite the impassable hurdle some think it to be. In the most technical sense, votes are being cast for electors rather than the candidates themselves, so it is possible that votes cast for Trump could possibly be transferred to Pence or a replacement nominee.
That doesn't mean the psychological effect of seeing Donald Trump's name on the ballot wouldn't impact a lot of people. It also doesn't mean that some low-information voters won't still think it's Trump on the ballot. Furthermore, half of Americans barely have heard of Mike Pence (or virtually any other potential Trump replacement), and all they know about him is that he's Donald Trump's lapdog. It would also be very difficult for a new candidate to make themselves known in less than a month.
Trump won't just literally be on millions of ballots if he drops out, but he'll be figuratively on the ballot everywhere. If you're a Republican politician who only condemns Trump now, you're still responsible for this national disgrace. It means you had 15 plus months to publicly reject and refute the man, and distance yourself from him, and chose to be silent.
If Trump drops out, it might be even more disastrous for down-ballot Republicans than if he stays in. If Trump drops out, it means the floor has fallen out on his support, and Republican establishment figures will have stopped pretending that he's normal. In that world, past support or lack of opposition to his abhorrent campaign likely will be even more harmful than it is today for Republicans down-ballot.
The reality is that any Republican who opposes Trump just a month before the election isn't brave -- it's simply a sign of their blatant political desperation and their last ditch attempt to cleanse themselves of the wretched, rotten Trump toxins stenching up their campaign.
Either way, this late in the game, Republicans are simply damned if they embrace Trump, and they're damned if they don't.