After the first debate, it was obvious that Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidential election. After the “Access Hollywood” tape was released, it was clear that she was going to win by a lot. Now, with multiple allegations from different women accusing Donald Trump of physically assaulting them, we are heading for a Clinton landslide, it would seem.
Trump is vowing to sue the accusers and the outlets that published the accusations, which he claims are untrue. It hardly matters from either a legal or political standpoint what he says now. On the legal front, he’ll never push the suits to conclusion since that would necessitate trials with testimony under oath. From a political standpoint, the mound of evidence and Trump’s unhinged reaction will dominate the rest of the campaign. (Among other things, it may make a third debate impossible for Trump to attend. What lawyer would advise Trump to talk in public at this point?)
What can or should the GOP do at this point? There are at least three possible scenarios:
Scenario No. 1: Nothing changes before Election Day. The spineless Reince Priebus and the rest of the Republican National Committee defend Trump as the innocent victim. The majority of Republican officials stick with him. The election results in a landslide victory for Clinton and huge victories for Democrats up and down the ticket, which give them majorities in both houses of Congress. The GOP “brand” is now so associated with racism, xenophobia and misogyny — in fact, actual abuse of women — that it becomes untenable as a political entity. Center-right voters, officeholders, activists and consultants start a new center-right party. A good number of those who backed Trump — the hypocritical evangelical Christians, the Fox News nighttime hosts, the talk-radio set, Trump’s dead-enders (Kellyanne Conway, Jason Miller, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama), dense conservatives (e.g. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas) — are disgraced, permanently and irrevocably.
Scenario No. 2: The Evan McMullin option. If Priebus and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence abandon ship (both resign) — or even if they don’t — the great mass of Republican elected officials and candidates dump Trump. The original #NeverTrump Republicans and all those who woke up at some point along the road to the GOP’s potential ruin now look to the only conservative on the ballot (in some states) — someone with no ethical blemishes and who has put forth a forward-looking center-right message. He is on the ballot (or a write-in) in 34 states. He is not going to get anywhere near 270 electoral votes, nor be able to dislodge Clinton. He does, however, provide some impetus for Republicans to turn out. After the election, the Trumpkins and their defenders are purged from the GOP, which undergoes a thorough transformation. The GOP is no longer the party of Trump, but the party of McMullin, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the rest of the #NeverTrumpers.
Scenario No. 3: Trump is forced out. Faced with legal peril, the destruction of his business and a humiliating loss, Trump is persuaded by his family to leave the race. To the extent ballots can be redone, either Pence or someone tapped on an emergency basis (highly unlikely and fraught with legal complications) can appear on the GOP line. To the extent the ballots cannot be redone, there will be massive confusion as to how and where the votes are allocated. (What do members of the electoral college do? Is there some legal way of ensuring that Trump cannot decide to come back into the race?) The GOP is in shambles for the foreseeable future.
There may be some combination of these or some other scenarios. Two things, however, are virtually inevitable: Clinton will be elected, and the GOP as we know it will be eviscerated. In other words, the precise outcome that #NeverTrump Republicans warned about will come to pass.