After two weeks of bad news and a disastrous debate performance, many Republicans are getting nervous about Donald Trump. Even before the revelation of the 2005 audio recording in which Trump describes how “when you’re a star” you “can do anything” to women, Trump was slipping in polls and Hillary seemed to be surging in most swing states.
Now there are reports are that if Donald Trump does not perform well in the second debate on Sunday, that Republicans may “flee openly from their nominee.” The report comes from the New York Times which cites two “two senior Republicans involved at high levels of the campaign.” According to the Times, internal polling by both parties shows that the Trump’s deficit is wider than generally recognized, especially among independent voters, moderate Republicans, and women. The audio release will hurt Trump with women voters, in particular.
Neil Newhouse a Republican pollster is worried that Trump’s decline will impact close Republican Senate races. “Two weeks ago I would have said Republicans would hold control of the Senate, but there’s just so many seats up and nobody is getting separation,” Newhouse told the Times. “It worries me that we’re this close to Election Day and you’re not seeing that separation, because it makes you wonder what kind of impact the top of the ticket has.”
In spite of the importance of Sunday’s debate, Trump doesn’t seem to be concerned enough to practice his debate skills. “I said forget debate prep. I mean, give me a break,” Trump said in a recent town hall in New Hampshire reported in Politico. “Do you really think that Hillary Clinton is debate-prepping for three or four days. Hillary Clinton is resting, okay?”
Trump’s claim that he isn’t practicing may be a head fake. Prior to the first debate, Trump tweeted that Gennifer Flowers, a mistress to Bill Clinton, would be a guest at the debate. Mike Pence denied the story the next day. The story was apparently a joke by Trump that was intended to rattle Hillary Clinton. Saying that he isn’t practicing may be intended to lull her into a false sense of security.
Even with practice it is doubtful that Trump would be able to equal Mike Pence’s debate performance. Thursday on the Michael Medved Show, Medved made the point that Pence was able to avoid taking the bait from Tim Kaine because he did not defend Donald Trump’s numerous questionable statements and proposals. It is highly unlikely that Trump will be able to resist defending himself against Hillary’s attacks.
A Republican flight from Trump might take different forms. The Washington Post notes that several congressional Republicans are experimenting with ads that distance them from both Trump and Hillary. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), one of two Republicans who have said that they will not vote for Trump, produced an ad that showed Dold clicking off a television after seeing Trump and Hillary attack each other. Dold announced on Thursday that he will vote for an unspecified write-in candidate.
The candidate that Dold is alluding to is probably Evan McMullin. McMullin, an independent conservative, stands to gain from Trump’s misfortune. As values voters move away from Trump, many are likely to shift to supporting the conservative newcomer. Despite only having started his campaign in early August, McMullin is already approaching Gary Johnson in national polling.
One indication of whether the GOP plans to stand by their man is Trump’s scheduled appearance with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Senator Ron Jonson (R-Wisc.) and Gov. Scott Walker on Saturday. The event in Wisconsin was to be the first time that Ryan had actually stumped for Trump. On Friday night, Ryan announced that Trump would not attend the event.
With scandals mounting and polls slipping, the town hall debate on Sunday may represent Donald Trump’s last chance to salvage his campaign. A poor performance will guarantee that many Republicans will be putting a lot of distance between themselves and The Donald.