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Trump nightmare starts for real for GOP, all the way down the ballot

Donald Trump has brought the Republican Party to its nightmare scenario.

The billionaire businessman has stayed close enough, long enough in polling to Hillary Clinton that Republican House and Senate candidates decided nearly unanimously not to break with him. Even Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who boldly declined to endorse Trump in his Republican National Convention speech, had buckled in recent days and reversed course.

Now the hot microphone tape of Trump boasting about both adultery and making unwelcomed sexual advances has humiliated Republicans who support him. Four weeks before Election Day, the fallout is just now beginning.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks on during the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University on September 26, 2016 in Hempstead, New York.
Getty Images

Even before disclosure of the tape, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire had demonstrated the fear of GOP candidates. Asked in a debate with her Democratic opponent if she considered Trump a role model for children, she said "absolutely." Within hours, she felt compelled to retract that statement, explaining that "I misspoke."

Now Republican politicians are beginning to go much further. Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, facing a difficult re-election fight in a competitive district, called for Trump to step aside as the Republican nominee.

So did Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado. In Utah, nearly the entire Republican establishment repudiated the nominee of the party that has dominated state politics.

Trump, trailing Clinton by several percentage points nationally and in most battleground states, was on track to lose the election before disclosure of the tape. Republican confidence that he can close that gap and win has vanished as Trump approaches Sunday night's second debate with Clinton in a severely-weakened position.

The principal question now is how many other Republicans go down with him. Democrats need to gain at least four seats to win back a Senate majority; their odds are good.

It remains unlikely that Democrats can achieve the 30 seat gain they need to win back the House. But the moves Friday night by jittery Republican members suggest that they are alarmed by the possibility. The theme of the next month will be the scramble of Republican politicians to protect themselves.