Is This The One?

Russia, Comey and the Ghost of Bombshells Past

One reason I’m hesitant to proclaim this or that Trump revelation the breaking point for the GOP is that I’ve seen this movie before — and more importantly, so have Republicans in Congress.

Back in early October I was invited up to New York City to be a guest on a Fox News panel (RIP ITYW.) It was the first time I would be in-studio, so needless to say I was very excited. Relatively sleepy agenda slated. Among other things, we were going to preview the following night’s debate and assess impact of a minor tropical storm on early voting in Florida.

Then Friday afternoon rolled around. The Washington Post dropped the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape that caught Trump on a hot mic. Then all hell broke loose.

The next 24 hours felt like political vertigo. I remember watching in the green room as the list of defecting Republican representatives, senators and candidates mounted in real time. Evidently based on the chyron John McCain pulled his support right as I was on camera. By the time the had dust settled, more than 50 members had defected one way or another, rescinding their endorsements and/or calling for Trump to drop out of the race.

Surely this was it. The SS Trump had hit an iceberg, and Republicans were scrambling for life jackets. He had survived ugly moments before, but this was different.

Or was it? The ever observant Chris Stirewalt noted the terms in which most of disavowals had been couched. They had left themselves a rhetorical bread crumb trail just in case.

Surely not, I said. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.

In a way we were both right.

Stirewalt was correct in that the vast majority of them doubled back, and pivoted to “But Hillary” mode once it became clear that Trump’s numbers had stabilized. Trump went on to win and shock the world.

But he never forgot the betrayal of that moment. It festers like a psychic scab the President likes to pick at. Trump apparently relishes in teasing White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus by recalling his pleas to drop out amid the fallout.

Trump’s outside allies recognize this dynamic and have used it to their advantage. As I wrote in a longer piece for POLITICO Magazine:

During a crucial week for the health care bill, leaked audio surfaced of Speaker Paul Ryan backing away from Trump mere weeks before the election, an episode that remains a sore spot for the president.

So to the extent Republicans are weighing a break with the White House, the anticlimax of the Access Hollywood tape experience and the residual scar tissue only serve to reinforce the collective action problem.

The lesson here being not that Trump is invincible, but that the individual risk of bolting from him (while he has a political pulse) outweighs the potential rewards.

The other lesson is that you should always listen to Chris Stirewalt — he’s a smart dude.

PS- Thanks Dana and Chris!