Now that it has become crystal clear Donald Trump will not quit - that he has "unshackled" himself and plans to "limp" across the finish line - some Republicans who called on him to drop out over the weekend are reversing themselves.
The senior senator from Nebraska tweeted this on Saturday:
Deb Fischer tweeted, "The comments made by Mr. Trump were disgusting and totally unacceptable under any circumstance." And, "It would be wise for him to step aside and allow Mike Pence to serve as our party's nominee."
But Tuesday during a radio interview she announced that she will vote for Trump after all. "He decided he would not step aside. I respect his decision," Deb Fischer told the Lincoln radio affiliate KLIN. "I support the Republican ticket, and it's a Trump-Pence ticket. . . . To me, it's not a tough choice."
Darryl Glenn, the Republican nominee against Senator Michael Bennet in Colorado, said Saturday that Trump must step aside. "America cannot have a man who speaks this way about women be the face of our country to the Free World," he said in a statement.
But facing backlash from Trump supporters, Glenn - who already has no realistic path to victory - backtracked. He says watching the debate Sunday night changed his mind. "Donald Trump did what he absolutely had to do," Glenn said on Fox News. "I think he reset this campaign."
It has truly been a surreal cycle to watch. Many Republican elected officials are personally outraged and ashamed by something their party's nominee says or does. So they distance themselves. But as soon as they face a whiff of blowback from some in the party, they cave and fall back in line. Then they offer up excuses and rationalisations, twisting themselves into pretzels to justify voting for a guy who some will tell you privately is a danger to the Republic. It's happened over and over again now, and it validates what Trump himself said during the primaries: many politicians are indeed craven and interested mainly in maintaining power for themselves, principles be damned.
And NBC/Wall Street Journal polling suggests that some rank-and-file Republicans who defected after the emergence of the 2005 video are coming back into the fold too. "Some 83 percent of Republicans said in post-debate polling that they would vote for Mr. Trump in a head-to-head matchup against Mrs. Clinton, up from 60 per cent in weekend surveys," Monica Langley writes in the Journal.
So what would it take for these Republicans to actually dump Trump? Dogged by accusations of corruption as he ran for governor of Louisiana in 1983, Edwin Edwards told reporters: "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy." The Democrat won.
Earlier this year, Trump boasted in Iowa: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
We were reminded of both these quotes during Blake Farenthold's appearance on MSNBC Tuesday night. Asked by host Chris Hughes whether he would still support Trump even if the Republican nominee said on tape that he liked raping women, the congressman from Texas suggested he might - eventually adding he'd "consider it."
"Again - it depends - you don't know the entire context of all of this," he said. "That would be bad, and I would have to consider - I'd consider it. But again, we're talking about what Donald Trump said 10 years ago as opposed to what Hillary Clinton has done in the past two or three years."
The congressman apologized on Twitter. He tweeted, "I apologise for my failure to immediately condemn anyone who would say something as outrageous as they like raping women. "
Farenthold's stumble raises the question of how high Trump's floor of support might be. It is doubtlessly higher than conventional wisdom in the mainstream media would suggest.
A comprehensive USA Today survey finds that 26 per cent of Republican governors, senators and House members are now refusing to endorse Trump. In real numbers, that is 88 out of 331. Put another way, three-quarters of elected GOP leaders are supporting The Donald.
In New Hampshire, for example, Senator Kelly Ayotte is the only statewide Republican to withdraw her support for Trump. The Concord Monitor notes that the Republican gubernatorial nominee and both GOP congressional candidates condemned Trump's comments but continue to support him.
In next door Maine, Governor Paul LePage, R, actually said Tuesday that "authoritarian power" may be needed in the United States. "Sometimes, I wonder that our Constitution is not only broken, but we need . . . [Trump] to show some authoritarian power in our country and bring back the rule of law," his longtime supporter said during a radio interview. "We've had eight years of a president, he's an autocrat, he just does it on his own, he ignores Congress and every single day, we're slipping into anarchy." (Portland Press-Herald)
Other Republicans who clearly do not like Trump personally are nonetheless continuing to support him for political reasons:
People close to Ted Cruz said after the convention in Cleveland that the Texas senator would not endorse Trump because he saw his former rival as an authoritarian in the mold of Benito Mussolini. Now Cruz is sticking with someone who he sees as a strongman -- and who has also suggested that his father was somehow involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and who has criticised his wife's physical appearance.
Marco Rubio, after staying under the radar for a few days, announced Tuesday that he is standing by Trump despite the video (and his insistence earlier this year that the reality TV star cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons). "I wish we had better choices for President," the Florida senator (who Trump not-so-affectionately dubbed "Little Marco") said in a statement. "But I do not want Hillary Clinton to be our next President. And therefore my position has not changed." (Miami Herald)
History will not be kind to these Trump collaborators in the GOP establishment, conservative thought leader Ross Douthat argues in an important column for Wednesday's New York Times: "In bending the knee to Trump last spring, they thought that they were buying party unity and a continued share of power, and paying for it with just a little of their decency, a mite of their patriotism, a soupcon of their honor. They may find out soon enough that all this bargain bought them was an even harsher reckoning, and that all they will inherit is the wind. . . . History in its day to day is not a morality play. But sometimes there is a clear chastisement, a moment when the judgments of providence seem stark. And so it may be for the men who led the Republican Party into its Trumpian inferno."