The tailspin of Donald Trump's presidential campaign throughout October — caused in large part by a leaked 2005 recording of the candidate casually discussing sexual assault scenarios, as well as three erratic debate performances — was worsened by the public reneging of endorsements by prominent Republican lawmakers, who announced they would be writing in a more mainstream candidate for president. Though it's clear that the Republican National Committee and the party's establishment lawmakers were never enthusiastic about their candidate, the sense of abandonment a week ahead of the election is more palpable than ever. Could the GOP replace Trump?
According to Politico, it's a scenario that lawyers consulting with the RNC were looking into at the beginning of October. A connected Republican told the organization that they concluded that "he can only be replaced if he quits or dies." This was their interpretation of the rather vaguely worded Rule 9 of the official party rules: "The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President."
Assuming that Trump lives and stays in the race — both likely scenarios — are there any options left that the Republican Party could pursue? There's one wonky route via the Electoral College.
Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast crunched the state-by-state rules for how electors vote on Dec. 19. In 26 states, they aren't legally bound to vote for any specific candidate. Fifteen of the remaining states plus Washington, D.C. require electors to vote according to their party, but not for a specific candidate. In the remaining nine states, the electors are either pledged to the "candidate" or the person appearing on the ballot.
Since the ballots are already printed and early voting has been underway, it would not likely be possible to say that Trump is not the party's candidate; in the nine states that bind electors to the candidate or the name on the ballot, they would probably have to go with Trump.
But what if the GOP decided to direct its electors in the remaining states to vote for a different candidate (remember, you're voting for electors, not the presidential candidate)? It's technically possible, though significant backlash from the public could be expected. And electors in the states without binding rules could still go for Trump.
Given that the RNC has finally begun putting money into TV ads endorsing Trump a week ahead of Election Day, such a bold move as outlined above is far from likely to occur. Inconsistent state rules concerning electors might make it possible for the GOP to replace Trump, but the party has decided that is not a viable option.