What now?

The Trump campaign is bleeding profusely from the wound of his Access Hollywood video. Carly Fiorina and John McCain are among the prominent Republicans who have withdrawn their support.

There are also calls for Trump to step down as the Republican nominee. Andy McCarthy is among those urging this.

Trump, though, has said he will never stand aside. Conceivably, he will relent, but the choke artist seems determined to hang in there.

Bill Kristol recognizes this difficulty, but suggests that “if it were made clear to [Trump] that all endorsements were to be withdrawn and that all resources were to be denied—if Mike Pence were to resign from the ticket and Reince Preibus were to refuse any further help—Trump might be persuaded.” That’s a lot of “ifs” to culminate only in a “might.”

It’s also questionable whether, at this late date, Trump could be replaced. Shannen Coffin acknowledges that “Trump can’t be removed from the ballot in most (if not all) of the States.” He adds that “there is no good mechanism to replace Trump with another Republican candidate.”

This, I imagine, is why it took so long for a video like the Access Hollywood one (who doubts there are others in the same genre?) to surface. This, and the fact that it was in the interests of the Democrats to see Republican candidates get on board with Trump before dropping the hammer.

Kristol suggests that “if the GOP electors in the various states agreed to vote in the electoral college for a candidate designated by the Republican National Committee—probably Mitt Romney, perhaps Mike Pence—these difficulties could be overcome.” Another big “if” culminates in a “perhaps.”

The most realistic assessment I’ve seen of the situation comes, I’m sad to say, from Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. His article is called “Republicans made their bed with Donald Trump. Now they have to lie in it.”

That’s probably true as a general matter. But Cillizza’s piece would more accurately be titled “it’s every Republican for himself.” As his Republican sources suggest, GOP candidates will have to decide whether their current electoral interests are best served by abandoning Trump, as McCain has done, or staying the course. GOP leaders lucky enough not to be on ballot this year will have to decide which course best serves their future electoral interests.

This has always been the calculus, for most. But an important variable now has changed.

GOP candidates and leaders will have to make their decision soon, but not until the days immediately following tomorrow’s debate. If Trump somehow puts in a performance that stops the bleeding, the exodus of prominent supporters will probably halt.

Otherwise, GOP leaders will likely explore options such as the ones Kristol lays out, as unrealistic as they appear to be. But I see no option that doesn’t result in a Hillary Clinton presidency. If that’s the case, it may be that no course is better than letting this horror show play out, learning the lessons it has to teach us, and then picking up the pieces

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