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At the second presidential debate, can Donald Trump stop the bleeding?

Win McNamee/GettyImages

In the wake of the now notorious “pussy” recording, candidates from Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire to John McCain in Arizona are no longer concealing their distaste for the bombastic media mogul. At least two dozen GOP officials have rescinded their endorsements in a staggering exodus not seen since 1974, when two congressional leaders and Barry Goldwater sat embattled president Richard Nixon down in the Oval Office and told him to step aside. Even Tic Tac—the company whose mints Trump reportedly takes before forcibly kissing women—has condemned the Republican nominee.

Fifteen months after Donald Trump entered the race, his presidential aspirations are circling the drain. The question now is whether the rattled candidate can pull himself together on the debate stage at Washington University in Saint Louis tonight and stop the death spiral.

He has managed to bounce back from missteps in the past, when he labeled war hero McCain a loser, questioned the impartiality of a American-born federal judge of Mexican heritage, and lashed out at the Muslim parents of a fallen soldier. But he has never faced outright mutiny, with less than a month to go before Election Day no less.

Trump may benefit from the fact that Beltway insiders are clamoring to denounce him: He has done best in the polls when he campaigns against the Washington establishment and when the establishment, in turn, seems to be ganging up against him. Hillary Clinton, however, wisely chose to go quiet the day after The Washington Post published the 2005 clip from Access Hollywood, letting the Republicans and the public rake Trump over the coals for his comments about women.

Trump still has some hope of winning the Republican leadership back. As of Sunday afternoon, only one member of the party leadership had called on Trump to step aside for Mike Pence: Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota. The others, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have contented themselves with denouncing his statements. At least for now, they are watching and waiting to see how he performs in what surely is a do-or-die presidential debate. He could still wow them. But if his fainthearted apology video and his press conference with Bill Clinton’s accusers are any indication, it’s going to be ugly.