WASHINGTON – Donald Trump isn’t making it easy for Republicans.
The GOP nominee likely won a reprieve by exceeding low expectations at Sunday’s debate. He may have stopped, at least for now, the stampede of Republicans who were fleeing from his campaign after a video emerged Friday of him discussing women in vulgar and sexually aggressive terms.
But one truth is emerging from the wreckage of one of the most intense 72 hours in modern American politics: Trump has virtually no path right now to the 270 electoral votes he will need to capture the presidency in 28 days.
Trump intensified his scorched earth strategy Tuesday with a tweetstorm in which he blasted Speaker Paul Ryan and John McCain and declared the “shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.”
Trump’s puzzling tactic of merely trying to energize his base supporters without demonstrating a broader strategy to win over more moderate voters, is pushing top Republicans into an even more precarious position. Because the debate wasn’t a total flop, Trump made it harder for them to completely break with his floundering campaign at a time when his drag on the ticket could cost them control of the US Senate, and possibly even the House.
“He basically reminded Republicans of the reasons why he’s their nominee — on Obamacare, judges, and the attacks on Hillary Clinton,” said Lanhee Chen, a Republican strategist and CNN commentator who is also a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “Those are all things that made Republicans very comfortable. It makes it harder for officeholders and candidates to leave him.”
The conundrum for Republicans came into greater focus Monday. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken after Trump’s tape surfaced found Hillary Clinton surging to an 11-point lead among likely voters in a four-way race for the White House. And without formally revoking his endorsement of Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan cut the nominee loose and said he would no longer defend him, instead devoting his energy to securing the congressional majorities.
But Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus stood by the nominee Monday despite the bleak prospects.
Pence congratulated Trump on the debate and said he never considered leaving the ticket — even as dozens of Republicans called on the nominee to step aside over the weekend.
“I’ll always keep my conversations with Donald Trump and my family private,” Pence told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on New Day. “But it’s absolutely false to suggest that at any point in time we considered dropping off this ticket.”
Running with Trump, Pence said, “is the greatest honor of my life”.
Preibus, meanwhile, put to rest talk that the RNC was ready to cut Trump off to devote resources exclusively to congressional races.
“Nothing has changed in regard with our relationship,” Priebus said in a call with RNC committee members, according to sources on the call. “We are in full coordination with the Trump campaign. We have a great relationship with them. And we are going to continue to work together to make sure he wins in November.”
For her part, Clinton and her allies are steadily becoming more bullish. The campaign is eyeing whether to spend money in additional states.
“There is always a chance,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri told reporters Monday. “It’s the kind of thing that we are day-to-day on and we have to see how these states are looking and if that is a smart thing to do.”