It’s been pretty clear for a long time now that Donald Trump would be willing to burn the Republican Party to the ground if he believed it would serve his purposes to do so. On Sunday morning, having spent the last few days loading up the Grand Old Party with gasoline cans and oil-soaked rags, he finally lit the match.
The Republican presidential nominee had watched dozens of Republican lawmakers rush to rescind their endorsements of his candidacy and express their shock and horror after a video surfaced in which Trump explicitly discusses sexually assaulting women. Trump claims that his celebrity status means there is nothing they can do about it.
Bleeding support and deserted by most of his usual stable of enablers and apologists, he raged on Twitter about “So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers - and elections - go down!” He claimed that he still has “Tremendous support (except for some Republican ‘leadership’). Thank you.”
And then, according to New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin, his campaign began distributing talking points to the dwindling number of surrogates willing to speak for him, urging them to go on the attack against other Republicans who have abandoned him.
“They are more concerned with their political future than they are about the future of the country,” the campaign argued, according to Martin. And, “Trump won the Primary without the help of the insiders and he’ll win the General without them, too.”
Trump further telegraphed that tonight, when he takes the stage to face Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the topic of her husband’s infidelities, and unconfirmed claims that he sexually assaulted women, will be front and center. He retweeted an account from a woman who claims Bill Clinton raped her, and tweeted out a link to an “exclusive” interview with the woman published by the Breitbart.com website.
As the list of Republicans publicly repudiating his candidacy continued to grow on Sunday, Trump was getting little assistance from those who have been closest to him during the campaign.
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both cancelled appearances on the Sunday talk shows, and Trump’s own vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence backed out of making an appearance on Trump’s behalf.
The campaign could only trot out a beaten-down-looking Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who made the rounds of all five of the major shows. He had to ritually listen to and condemn Trump’s statements, admit that what the nominee was describing in vivid detail was actually sexual assault, and then go on to make the case that people should vote for him anyway.
The thinning of his ranks of surrogates makes it unclear just how many of his erstwhile supporters will be willing to turn their guns on the GOP establishment just 30 days from a general election. However, Trump has more than enough of a megaphone himself to make sure that the message gets out to his supporters that he feels he has been betrayed.
It is the ultimate nightmare scenario for the Republican Party. Not only has its headline candidate now alienated many potential Republican voters, he also appears prepared to convince even those who stayed loyal to him that the broader GOP is unworthy of their support -- a move that could cost the party control of the Senate and perhaps, if things get ugly enough, the House of Representatives.
What it’s not is a strategy that will win him the White House. His chance of seeing the inside of the Oval Office, outside joining a tour group, now seem minimal. But at this point, it’s not about the presidency. It’s about aggrandizing and justifying Donald Trump.
In fact, that’s all his campaign has ever been about.