The Republican Party is fathoming the unfathomable: dropping Donald Trump as their presidential candidate in favor of…endorsing Gary Johnson? Steering a rudderless ship? No one knows for sure, but nearly one third of Republican senators now say they won’t vote for Trump. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, less than a month removed from his threat to ostracize the few #NeverTrump Republicans who then remained, is now halting victory funding for Trump’s campaign. When this phantasmagoria of an election is over and the movie comes out, Priebus has guaranteed that he’ll be played by a mercilessly comic Steve Buscemi.
Last night’s debate was supposed to be Trump’s final chance to prove he’s still equipped to be the Republican nominee, a position he had no business occupying in the first place. Did he pull it off? The answer is that he doesn’t give a damn. He flouted Republican standards and practices, personally attacking Hillary Clinton, cattily interrupting her, and raging against the moderators (who, to be fair, were tilted against him). GOP HQ wanted to see a more polished and presidential Trump, and save for the first five or so minutes when he appeared to be on Benadryl, they didn’t get one.
That was undoubtedly by design. The Trump campaign has always been a workaround, circumventing the traditional Republican gatekeepers to make his case directly to disillusioned voters. GOP elites can scoff, but their newfound contempt will only reinforce Trump’s core base of support, which is furious at the political duopoly and looking for someone who works outside the conventional system. It’s also a bit late now for Republicans to chafe, months after they struck their Faustian bargain with Trump to keep Hillary out of the White House. To yank their support because Trump joked about sexual assault is to beggar belief — they’ve watched him for months; they knew he was capable of this. And last night, he hollowed out their complaints even further by neutralizing the source of their anger. The video was barely discussed; Hillary Clinton’s emails were, and extensively.
Trump doesn’t need the Republican Party to win this election, and if he fails to do that, as most polls suggest he will, then he certainly doesn’t need the Republican Party to authorize his Trump TV project. He’s on his own. His campaign isn’t even incumbent on his popular running mate, who he aggressively contradicted last night on Syria. Official Republicans will probably stick with Trump, begrudgingly, at least until another video comes out showing him to be a clodhopper, but count them as just the latest demographic he doesn’t care about.