With four weeks left until Election Day, Donald Trump appears to be losing endorsements, votes, and now, cash.
These might be mortal blows to a typical presidential candidate, but Mr. Trump is anything but. In fact, some political analysts say he may yet solidify his base from this recent turn of events.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told party officials to cut off cash to Mr. Trump's campaign and redirect resources to down ballot candidates, according to an Oct. 8 Wall Street Journal report.
On Monday, however, Mr. Priebus held an emergency conference call with RNC members denying the "rumors" that the party was abandoning Trump. “Nothing has changed in regard with our relationship and we remain very much involved and together in all levels of making these decisions with how to run this operation across this country,” Priebus said.
“Everything is on course,” he said, adding, “I want you to understand that,” according to Politico, quoting from what it described as a transcript of a 14-minute call.
But another report reveals that major GOP donors and bundlers are requesting refunds. They include two donors who "have contributed or raised tens of thousands of dollars for Trump," and a bundler, or campaign fundraiser, who has "raised close to $1 million for Trump," NBC News reported Wednesday.
The 2005 video of Trump boasting lewdly about unwanted sexual advances on women appears to be the last straw for donors, says Michael Armato, a professor of political science at Albright College in Reading, Penn..
"If he is alienating bundlers, that is a major concern for his candidacy," says Professor Armato.
"At some point you are throwing good money after bad, and I would think that even Trump would realize that," says Dan Franklin, a professor of political science at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Ga. "The fact is that momentum does impact fundraising ... and as Trump's campaign craters people are less willing to work for him, donate to his campaign and turn out to vote for him."
"What is unusual here is that this is happening in a general election," Professor Franklin adds. "This kind of movement is typically reserved for primary elections.... Having a major campaign lose momentum and do so badly this late in the campaign is unusual."
Trump's candidacy has divided the Republican Party throughout the 2016 campaign, but since the release of the 2005 video last Friday, the Republican nominee has seen a stampede of elected officials and prominent Republicans defecting from Camp Trump en masse. Dozens of elected officials have announced their opposition to Trump throughout his campaign, as well as other prominent Republicans.
Critics include New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Fox News personality and The Blaze founder Glenn Beck, former Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former first lady Barbara Bush. In fact, roughly one-third of GOP senators have indicated they are not supporting Trump or have called on him to drop out, The Atlantic reports.
For his part, Trump has indicated he's not going anywhere. "I'd never withdraw. I've never withdrawn in my life," Trump told the Washington Post Saturday. "No, I’m not quitting this race. I have tremendous support."
By most accounts, the loss of support will hurt Trump's campaign. The billionaire businessman has never been able to match Hillary Clinton's $400 million campaign operation in funds, a point that was underscored in August when several major GOP donors dropped Trump and opened their wallets to rival Mrs. Clinton instead.
If more donors abandon Trump this late in the game, it may affect Trump's get-out-the-vote operation and depress further fundraising and turnout, say Professors Armato and Franklin.
Perhaps more importantly, "the loss of support narrows his base of voters at a time when he should be expanding that base to win the election," says Jeff Bosworth, a professor of political science at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Penn., who adds that the reports demonstrate the weakness of the Trump candidacy.
While this eleventh-hour exodus of support would typically be catastrophic, it may not actually damage Trump as much as it would a conventional candidate, adds Professor Bosworth. In fact, it may offer him an unexpected boost.
"Normally this would be devastating to a major party candidate," he adds. "The difference with Trump, however, is that his campaign is fundamentally based on a deliberate appeal to non-elites. This is why he is railing against Ryan and other Republicans – it actually may help his base of voters who are fed up with 'politics as usual' or 'DC insider politics.' Trump's best strategy here is to point to his loss of support among Republican elites as evidence of his ability to challenge the flaws of the system."
This strategy would reduce support from "regular" mainstream Republicans and may boost support from the extreme right and those who feel alienated, but is "almost certainly a losing strategy," he says.
To be sure, plenty of prominent Republicans and elected officials are sticking with Trump, including RNC Chair Priebus, Speaker Paul Ryan, former speakers John Boehner and Newt Gingrich, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former GOP presidential contenders Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, and Rick Santorum.
And it appears that voters aren't abandoning him, either. Almost three-quarters of Republican voters said they believed leaders should continue to back the party’s candidate, with only 13 percent wanting them to cut him loose, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll.
“The results show that nearly all voters have heard about the video and most rate it negatively, but Trump's supporters are not abandoning him right away," Morning Consult co-founder and Chief Research Officer Kyle Dropp told Politico.
Still, Franklin says it's time for both Trump and the party to go into damage control mode.
"This is very bad news for Trump and if I were counseling him, I would tell him he needs to start thinking about his brand and business. If he is going to lose – and I don’t see any way that he doesn't lose – he should lose with style," he says. "Trump shouldn't let his brand be further besmirched by desperate or crazy flailing at the end. If he becomes a clown, he'll tarnish his business and any hopes he has for the future and for his children."
As for the Republican Party, Franklin offers this warning: "Trump is a sinking ship and has the opportunity to pull the party down with him."
[Editor's note: The original story incorrectly implied when Maine Sen. Susan Collins withdrew her support for Trump. Senator Collins announced that she would neither support Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton in an August 8, 2016, op-ed in the Washington Post titled "GOP senator Susan Collins: Why I cannot support Trump." This article has also been updated to clarify that Kelly Ayotte is still a sitting Senator.]