Stung by a fierce backlash from Donald J. Trump's ardent supporters, four Republican members of Congress who had made headlines for demanding that Mr. Trump leave the presidential race retreated quietly this week, conceding that they would still probably vote for the man they had excoriated just days before.From Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the only member of the Republican leadership in either chamber who had disavowed Mr. Trump, to Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey, who is in a difficult re-election fight, the lawmakers contorted themselves over Mr. Trump.
On Saturday, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) heard the recording of Donald Trump boasting about groping women and decided she'd had enough. The Nebraska Republican denounced her party's presidential nominee and declared that Trump ought to "step aside and allow Mike Pence to serve as our party's nominee."By Tuesday, Fischer had reversed course, announcing that she'd vote for Trump after all. As the New York Times reported, she wasn't alone.
For some of these Republicans, the quick reversal is tough to explain. Thune, for example, made his thoughts quite clear on Saturday afternoon: "Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately." Trump, of course, didn't withdraw, and Thune has decided he wants Trump to be president anyway.Among U.S. House members, Alabama's Bradley Byrne (R) and New Jersey's Scott Garrett (R) also said over the weekend that Trump should be replaced as the GOP nominee. Yesterday, they both re-endorsed Trump's candidacy.I'm trying to think of the most charitable interpretation of these events. Let's say for the sake of conversation that these congressional Republicans were outraged by the 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording, but they were also satisfied when Trump apologized and said he didn't actually do what he claimed to have done.Perhaps Thune, Fischer, and others believe Trump was lying when he bragged about groping women, but he was telling the truth when he denied physical misconduct.This, coupled with intense pressure from rabid right-wing Trump supporters in the Republican base, was probably enough to flip these GOP lawmakers.But just hours after these Republicans re-endorsed Trump, reports surfaced of multiple women alleging, on the record, that the presidential candidate groped them. While those claims are still being scrutinized, it creates a qualitatively different kind of controversy: GOP lawmakers aren't just defending Trump over his trash talk about sexual assault; they're now faced with a controversy in which Trump has specific, real-life accusers who claim to have been assaulted.Any chance the Republicans who've re-endorsed Trump might consider a flip-flop-flip?