Republican vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence has returned to Indiana. He will not be attending the event with Paul Ryan. He has canceled all his campaign events. He will not be making any attempts to defend Donald Trump or his remarks. And then there’s this:

We already know that Donald Trump is going to stay in the race until the very end–and in any case, it’s unlikely the GOP could scramble to replace him in any case. So what about Mike Pence?

There has been some speculation that Pence could withdraw from the ticket as a way to pressure Trump. But would he?

Pence is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Unless something dramatic happens, Trump is bound to lose the election, which of course means that Pence won’t become Vice-President. If Pence stays on the ticket he might earn loyalty points from some parts of the GOP, but he would be forever tainted with the general public by his association with Trump. If Pence withdraws from the ticket he would gain brownie points from the GOP establishment and salvage a piece of his reputation with the general election voters he would need if he became the GOP nominee for president in 2020–but he would so infuriate Donald Trump’s fervent supporters that he would probably stand no chance of surviving the Republican primary.

It’s probably safest for Pence just to stay on the ticket, play the good soldier, and hope to dissociate himself from Trump as much as he can over the next four years.

But it’s also possible that Trump could self-immolate in the debate so spectacularly that continuing to be part of the ticket would make him beyond toxic and force his hand.

My suspicion is that Pence is sitting in Indianapolis waiting to see what Trump does in the debate. And then he’ll make a decision.

Either way, we are living through a remarkable and totally unprecedented election year.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.