For anyone counting (and we are), that's three. Three Senate Republicans who, after The Trump Tape ™, said they wanted their party's presidential nominee to step down. And three Senate Republicans who -- for a variety of reasons that mostly boil down to wanting to avoid a fight with Trump and his supporters -- now say they'll vote for him anyway.
The latest is Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who has a nominal reelection battle this year in his safe red seat. He told a local radio station Friday he may want a different presidential nominee, but he's going to vote for him anyway: "[T]hough I thought and felt we needed a different choice, that’s not what we’re going to get, and we cannot elect Hillary Clinton for many reasons. ... Given that choice, I will vote for the Republican ticket: Trump and [vice presidential nominee Mike] Pence."
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who is not on the ballot this year, also said she'll vote for Trump after calling on him to step down. Earlier this month, Sen. John Thune (S.D.) became the highest-ranking Republican to call for Trump to quit the presidential race and then say he'll probably vote for him.
While we're not privy to internal any of these GOP senators' internal conversations, a reasonable reading of this situation is that Trump has managed to staunch the bleeding among Republicans tempted to ditch him — whether by stronger-than-expected debate performances, or by making life hard for Republicans who did bail.
Thune's apparent reversal on Trump in a matter of days is Exhibit A.
We carefully parsed Thune's words because he isn't just any senator; he's the No. 3 Senate Republican. His tweet calling on Trump to drop out of the race prompted me to write that Senate Republicans seemed poised to drop Trump altogether. His comments several days ago suggesting that he'll vote for Trump were a new sign that Senate Republicans aren't planning to ditch Trump en masse anymore.
There could be a few reasons some GOP senators have reversed their decision to jump ship.
The first is obvious: the ticking clock. Thune still thinks Trump should go, he told local reporters, but said it may be too late. (It is.) “We're several days past that now," the senator said. “And the more days that pass, the harder it's going to be for somebody else to be able to step in and become the nominee and I understand that, but I still think that would be the best solution."
Crapo seemed to hint at that scenario too, saying: "The choice we still have today and the choice we will have is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton."
But often the most sellable positions in politics are the easiest to explain. And this -- the 'I supported him, but now I don't, but maybe I do now' position -- is not. Thune, Crapo and Fischer think their party's nominee is so unacceptable he should step aside completely. But, failing that, they're going to vote to put him in the White House. (Huh?)
They're not the only Republicans agonizing over their Trump decision right now. A USA Today tally earlier this month found a quarter of GOP elected officials haven't endorsed Trump, or have unendorsed him. But in the midst of the hemorrhaging, Trump put up a surprisingly strong second debate performance against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
For a lot of nervous, skeptical Republican lawmakers, that was enough.
“The big difference between first and second was he was clearly prepared for the second one," Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) told The Fix, citing Trump's performance in the Oct. 9 debate as a reason he decided to stay with the candidate despite being repulsed by what he said.
As my colleague David Weigel wrote, Republican voters may have felt the same way after the debate:
Trump's aggressive debate performance has shored up Republican support despite a swoon in his overall polling. According to a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, just 63 percent of Republican voters said in the wake of the tape's release that their party's other candidates should back Trump. After the debate — and after the high-profile Trump news conference with three women who years ago had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct — that number rose to 83 percent.
Those numbers might help explain why vulnerable Republican senatorial candidates who ditched Trump in the hours after The Tape ™ was released are facing a backlash -- even if Trump struggled in the third and final debate.
Rep. Joe Heck, in a neck-and-neck race for the open Senate seat in Nevada, got booed when he rescinded his support Saturday. In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman got rebuked by the state's highest-ranking Republican senator: “If you don't vote for the Republican, you're effectively helping the Democrat." In Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan — who still technically supports Trump — got heckled.
Shortly after, Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson appeared to suggest that Trump supporters would punish Republicans who ditch Trump by not voting for them. And on Tuesday, a popular conservative blog took her advice and suggested Wisconsin's 1st congressional District voters support Ryan's Democratic opponent instead.
I can't keep my phone charged due to the mass volume of texts from people all over the country who will #VoteTrump but⬇️ballot not so much.
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) October 10, 2016
Trump himself got in on the bashing of Republicans who left him, with just a few tweets starting a war with the GOP:
With the exception of cheating Bernie out of the nom the Dems have always proven to be far more loyal to each other than the Republicans!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
Disloyal R's are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win - I will teach them!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
And that's important context to keep in mind as several GOP senators yank back their Trump criticism. We're 14 days out, and a war between the Republican Party and their standard-bearer is the last thing the GOP needs right now. Republican lawmakers such as Thune may not love Trump. But they sure like their party's congressional majorities.