It seems pretty clear that the Republican Party is in deep trouble.
On the heels of the second reality TV-like 2016 debate, a town hall clash between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers Monday that he is done defending Trump. Instead Ryan will spend the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election putting his focus on preserving the House majority, he said. Yes, he said "preserving the House majority."
Ryan stopped short of rescinding his endorsement of Trump — unlike the 29 high-ranking Republicans who did exactly that over the weekend after the Friday release of a 2005 Access Hollywood "hot mic" tape featuring Trump making lewd remarks and bragging about how his fame allowed him to "do anything" to women.
Trump was quick with a tweet: "Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting [the] Republican nominee."
Against this backdrop, Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, finally thawed the ice that had developed between himself and Trump after Pence's VP debate reviews bested Trump's from the first presidential match-up (and after Pence denounced Trump's vulgar talk and canceled plans to appear on Trump's behalf in Wisconsin).
But after the second debate — after Trump did not go into meltdown on the town hall stage — Pence tweeted: "Congrats to my running mate @realDonaldTrump on a big debate win! Proud to stand with you as we #MAGA [Make America Great Again].
A "big debate win" is relative, of course. And not just in America, but worldwide. The BBC put it this way:
"Given that Mr. Trump's campaign has been in free-fall over the past 48 hours, anything less than a total Jack-Nicholson-at-the-end-of-A-Few-Good-Men-style meltdown onstage has to be deemed a marginal success on his part, and so it was. The prospect that any significant portion of what is sure to be a massive television audience emerged from the evening with any change of opinion, however, is unlikely."
But Pence — like many dedicated Republican soldiers marching to doom — continued the positive morning-after debate spin. He said Trump at the town hall meeting "showed the American people what's in his heart."
Well, yes. He did.
He gave us all a cringe-in-disgust moment as he attempted to turn the nation's second presidential debate into a sordid television reality show by parading out women who accused Bill Clinton of advances decades ago.
Then there was Trump's apology moment. He was contrite about his own indefensible lewd talk of sexual assault for fewer than 70 words — many of them repeated — in the whole of 90 minutes.
"This was locker room talk. I am not proud of it. I apologize to my family, I apologized to the American people. Certainly, I am not proud of it. But this is locker room talk. You know, when we have a world where you have ISIS chopping off heads "
So the take-away is that at least he's better than ISIS?
Then babbling another couple of hundred nearly incoherent words about ISIS, he dug his hole deeper: "Yes, I am very embarrassed by it [the tape] and I hate it, but it's locker room talk and it's one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS."
Yes, he really did say, "It's one of those things." The only thing he did right in that moment was not look at his watch.
He went on later to say, not once but twice, that if elected president he'd put Hillary Clinton in jail for "lies." Do we need to note that Donald Trump is the king of lies? Aside from that: News flash. This is America, not a banana republic where we would expect such nonsense from a nominee of one party toward his opponent.
Then there was Trump's ominous stage stalking. Often when Clinton would walk toward a member of the audience who had asked a question, Trump would pace up to stand just a few feet behind her so he would be clearly in the camera view and in the line of sight of the person she was addressing. When he wasn't lurking, he was pacing. It seemed a practiced effort aimed at distracting her and the audience. Let Trump be Trump and even his gesture is that of a bully.
He threw some red meat to his base, but remained contained enough, perhaps, to stop the bleeding on the right.
For her part, Clinton controlled herself and controlled her responses. Like Trump, she never talked any policy or plans that we haven't all heard already. But, more importantly, she never threw the knockout punch that she was so deft with in the first debate.
And why should she? Better to let Trump continue to wound himself and bleed out slowly.
She wins by helping Donald hang on to his tenuous hold as an albatross around the neck of the Republican Party.
It was a great debate.