Before the lurid video tape revelations about Donald Trump’s sexual conquests, there were ample reasons to question the viability of his troubled candidacy through to the election.

With these disclosures, even the most optimistic assessments cannot overshadow the high-risk strategy which the Trump high command seems determined to employ not by rehabilitating his dismal image among women but by escalating the attack against his female opponent in the most personal terms.

Judging from the reactions by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents and just about anyone who is observing this extraordinary race, this is producing bewilderment.

Before the latest uproar caused by the disclosures from the crude “Access Hollywood” program interview in 2005 which Trump has dismissed as nothing more than “locker room talk”, there were hints that the party might be searching for ways to remove Trump from the ticket.

Those musings have now grown serious after Trump’s tepid apology for his actions that had the sincerity of a child caught whipping the pet dog saying, I didn’t meant to hurt him!

If similar tapes surface in the days ahead the Trump team will be forced into full containment mode and the “dump Trump” movement will go into over-gear.

But candidate removal surgery is not that simple.

Voluntary withdrawal by Trump appears out of the question. In a telephone interview quoted in the New York Time a few days ago, he said he would “never drop out of this race in a million years.” Lewd Donald Trump Tape

He then added, “I am in this to the end.”

The possibility that he and his party could suffer considerable humiliation if he is soundly defeated has apparently left him unfazed.

Yet the growing number of defections by highly respected Republicans such as Sen. John McCain that are openly censoring him along with Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and  House Speaker, Paul Ryan who labelled his behavior “sickening”, and has refused to make joint appearances, elevates the dialogue higher than mere Beltway chatter.

There are three sets of determinants for replacement of a presidential nominee. First to apply would be Rule 9 of the RNC which states that “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…..” Rule 9

Some legal experts contend that the word “otherwise” creates leeway which, for example, could allow them to call him mentally unfit, and a vacancy could be filled by majority vote. Mike Pence, the VP choice is not eligible since he was nominated for a separate office, but anyone else is.

Other experts disagree who believe this term ambiguous, arguing that the rule is intended to fill vacancies and not as grounds for replacement. Sorry, Republicans. You’re stuck

The RNC could decide to change the rules, but the resulting backlash from Trump supporters would make any road to victory even more complicated and set off clashes that would imperil the party’s chances for years to come.

Next are the state ballot rules which are complicated and differ with one another.

Trump is on the ballot in all 50 states.

In some of them such as Arkansas, North Carolina, Delaware and Oklahoma certification was required by August.  Since these deadlines are long past, Trump’s name would stay on the ballot regardless of any replacement.

Assuming these issues could be untangled without extensive litigation, the Electoral College rules take precedence. In states where electors are pledged to the party that nominated him or her, if Trump’s name were replaced, let’s say, by Paul Ryan, these electors could vote for him.

That’s the case in California and most states.

In a handful of states presidential electors must cast their votes for whoever received the largest number of votes in the state. In this state that was Trump.

Leaving aside these thorny legalities, short of a decision by Trump to cut his losses and go out in a blaze of glory content to have stolen the spotlight for two years while leaving his party in shatters, there is little choice but to ride his horse to the finish line.

The bigger question confronting his proud and venerable party is what it must do in the aftermath to get itself out of the abyss into which he has led it.