This summer we cautioned that there would come a time, as there did in 1996, when Republican candidates for the House and Senate would essentially concede the presidency and begin to run as a check against the Democratic president. In 1996 that occurred three weeks out; this time — with a nod to early voting — it comes at the 4-week mark.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told colleagues Monday he will no long campaign for or defend GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, even as Trump’s top advisers said he would keep up his offensive against Hillary Clinton.
In a conference call with GOP House members Monday morning, Ryan said he is “only campaigning for House seats and promoting our agenda,” according to multiple participants on the call who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic.

Spokeswoman Ashlee Strong told me via email, “The speaker is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities.” In response to whether he was revoking his endorsement she added, “There is no update in his position at this time.” When I pressed her as to the speaker’s own vote, she reiterated, “He’s not un-endorsing.”

On one level, this is pathetic. A speaker who claims to be the leader of the House Republicans and who endorsed Trump for the sake of party unity now says, do whatever you want. What does he want? He won’t say. If unity is no longer at issue why not tell us what he thinks is best for the country?

On another level, this was inevitable as soon as the GOP nominated an unelectable, shameful figure like Donald Trump. At some point, candidates who have significant number of constituents who do not live their lives in the right-wing echo chamber were going to have to bolt from the Trump reality show campaign.

Sure enough, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Hillary Clinton leading by 14 in a face-to-face contest, by 11 in a 4-ways race. It is not clear if the debate helped, hurt or had no effect. What is clear is that Donald Trump is not going to be president.

The GOP certainly needs principled, forward leading candidates. But what it needs is a new constituency. The Fox TV audience/the talk show addicts/the birthers are incapable of sustaining viable candidates. The GOP as it is will never amount to an electoral majority, in part because what excites it turns off almost every other group. The crass, vulgar, angry and irrational mob that thrills when Trump acts like a madman is not a base around which a successful national party can be built. Know-nothingism, xenophobia and misogyny are enough to garner the GOP nomination, which explains why the GOP is unable to field a winning candidate.

It is no longer a matter of “just” losing minority and women voters. That was sufficient to give Dems a 200+ electoral vote advantage. Now, however, the Trump/Sean Hannity/Laura Ingraham/evangelical charlatan/anti-immigrant/nativist party cannot retain white-college educated voters or millennials. That is why the White House and very likely the Senate will be lost. It’s also why thoughtful Republicans understand that there should be an alternative to liberal statism. It is why there will need to be a party not dependent on Trumpkins, one accessible to educated people, minorities, women and others. That suggests an exodus from the dumpster fire, the residue of a once commendable party. The bigger the electoral disaster the quicker the center-right can find a way forward.