A blast from the not-so-distant past: When Republicans wanted Donald Trump hooked off the debate stage
Presidential candidates (from left) Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich at a 2016 Republican presidential debate. Image via Geoff Robbins/AFP.

You can’t really blame Donald Trump if he seems relaxed and non-plussed about entering the Presidential debate stage days after having been exposed in the New York Times as a tax-evading fraud facing financial ruin if he loses the election.

He has seen a lot worse.

It’s easy to forget, but the second of his three presidential debates against Hilary Clinton was held on October 9, 2016 at Washington University in St. Louis. That date was precisely two days after October 7, 2016, when the Washington Post had released the infamous Access Hollywood tapes.

On video, Trump described his attempt to seduce a married woman and indicated he might start kissing a woman that he and Bush were about to meet.

"I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ... Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Mind you, it wasn’t just that the reeling, trailing Trump had basically 48 hours to recover from what just everyone this side of the home office in Moscow considered a knockout punch to his horrific presidential campaign. He had to endure, in real time, prominent Republicans saying things like this:

“If Donald Trump wishes to defeat Hilary Clinton, he should do the only that will allow us to do so--step aside and allow Mike Pence to be the Republican Party’s nominee,” said Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colorado.

“I cannot and will not support Donald Trump for president. He has forfeited the right to be our party’s nominee,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

“I urge Donald Trump to step aside and allow the Republican Party to put forward a conservative candidate like Mike Pence who can defeat Hilary Clinton,” said Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

““I have committed my short time in Congress to fighting for the most vulnerable in our society. As a strong and vocal advocate for victims of sex trafficking and assault, I must be true to those survivors and myself and condemn the predatory and reprehensible comments of Donald Trump. I withdraw my endorsement and call for Governor Pence to take the lead so we can defeat Hillary Clinton, said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-St. Louis.

And all this outrage came from Republicans before Stormy Daniels was a household name (except privately to porn aficionados within the party’s ranks). Mind you, these were not merely condemnations: These were demands from major party figures that their own presidential candidate abandon ship one month before the election.

It’s not clear what these individuals--and many other Republicans leaders--have discovered about Trump’s character that has brought them around to supporting him without reservation today.

But if you think that there’s effectiveness to that devastating campaign commercial showing Senator Lindsey Graham daring us to hold him accountable for stealing a U.S. Supreme Court seat in 2016, can you imagine what those clips would look like today.

Go get ‘em, Lincoln Project.

Meanwhile, there’s one more voice from the past who deserves to be heard, this one more time.

“Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy,” said Senator John McCain, R-Arizona.

At least the late Senator never changed his mind.

Ray Hartmann is a columnist for The Riverfront Times, the St. Louis alternative newsweekly he founded in 1977 at the age of 24. He has been a panelist for 33 years on Donnybrook, a political discussion show on the local PBS affiliate in St. Louis and hosts a two-hour nightly radio show.