The question isn't so much if Donald Trump can win the election as whether or not he'll still be the GOP candidate come November. Nobody can predict what mad trajectory the Republican nominee's campaign might take. But given Trump's erratic, politically self-destructive behavior, it's reasonable to suspect he might get forced out or quit in a huff rather than face the ultimate indignity of losing to a girl.
Just the other day, Republican Rep. Richard Hanna of upstate New York disavowed Trump and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Describing himself as "stunned by the callousness" of the candidate's remarks about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents whose son died fighting in Iraq, Hanna called Trump "a national embarrassment" and "unfit to serve."
Hanna added that while he disagrees with Hillary Clinton on many issues, "she stands and has stood for causes bigger than herself for a lifetime. That matters." The implication is that Trump's only cause is himself and his grotesquely swollen ego.
How long before Sen. John McCain, whose own heroic service as a Vietnam POW Trump has impugned, decides that he too must act? How long before his patriotism forces him to agree with President Obama that "there has to come a point at which you say 'enough'?"
I'm betting McCain will bolt before November.
Former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson: "Those who support Trump are setting the Republican Party at odds with the American story told by Lincoln and [Rev. Martin Luther] King: a nationalism defined by striving toward unifying ideals of freedom and human dignity. Is this what the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, the chairman of the Republican Party and so many other good people intended when they entered politics? ... It is not too late to repudiate."
But whether or not Republican leaders can summon the political courage to break with Trump and his inflamed supporters, there are increasing signs that the great man himself is hearing footsteps, as they say in the NFL.
To begin with, he doesn't talk about polls anymore. No surprise, as Trump's bombastic "I alone" acceptance speech claiming to be the nation's one-man hope of redemption was an utter failure. Maybe plagiarizing Benito Mussolini wasn't such a great idea after all.
(OK, that was a cheap shot. Trump hasn't got the self-discipline to be a fascist.)
Anyway, here's the thing: A Gallup poll taken after the 2016 GOP convention showed voters less likely to vote for Trump by a 51-36 margin — the first negative numbers in polling history. No national political convention since Gallup began asking the question in 1984 has failed to improve a nominee's standing. Even Mitt Romney got a 2 percent bounce. Trump dropped 15 points.
I couldn't believe my ears when I heard Trump describe the U.S. as a doomed, hellish landscape with "poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad." Were Republicans really so far gone into his cult of personality as to leave patriotism, optimism and the enduring hope of a better tomorrow to Democrats?
Indeed, they were. Hence voter dismay, and a recent CBS News poll showing 63 percent of voters saying Trump "lacks the right temperament" for the presidency. For all the hugger-mugger over Hillary Clinton's "damned emails," 60 percent think she's prepared.
Faced with a far better informed rival who doesn't rattle easily and also happens to be a woman, Trump's all of a sudden hunting a way to crawfish out of the presidential debates. What else can he do, call her "shorty?" Say she's a six and a half? The debate dates are all wrong, he whines.
Well, you try to schedule a night in September or October that doesn't conflict with a major athletic event — whether playoff baseball, college football or the NFL. That's why God made DVRs.
But no, the NFL didn't complain to Trump. He made that up, pretty much as he makes up most of what he says.
So the would-be national savior has started making excuses. He recently told an Ohio audience, "I'm afraid the election's going to be rigged. I have to be honest."
Oh yeah, honesty compels him. Comes November, see, Trump will only have lost because "Crooked Hillary" cheated. That was the whole point of the idiotic "Lock her up" chant during the GOP convention.
Longtime Trump confidant and GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone (he has Nixon's face tattooed on his back) says Trump should start claiming that, "If there's voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government."
In short, something like a coup attempt.
Except I don't believe Trump's got the guts to go through with it.