For Donald Trump and his brand, “winning” is of utmost importance. While his relentless talk about American exceptionalism is appealing to GOP primary voters, Trump’s personal success in life and his front-runner status in the Republican contest are other elements of the billionaire businessman’s appeal. Everybody likes a winner, after all, especially when that winner is sticking it to the establishment.
Unfortunately for Trump, his early lead in the polls and his belief in the certainty of his success have sown the seeds of his own inevitable political destruction.
What do we know about Trump? He never admits mistakes. Defeat is certainly not an option. For most of the campaign, Trump’s candidacy has been about how well he is doing in polls. His empirical supremacy apparently trumped everything else.
But if a batch of recent polls showing his lead slipping — or even disappearing completely — is the beginning of a trend, Trump’s candidacy is coming to a crossroads.
In October, a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers showed Trump slipping behind retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 28 percent to 20 percent. A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics survey showed Carson with a similar 28 percent to 19 percent advantage.
A New York Times/CBS News poll of GOP primary voters nationally showed Carson with a 26 percent to 22 percent edge over Trump. And the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of GOP primary voters nationally, Carson with a similar 29 percent to 23 percent advantage.
In order to preserve the Trump brand, Trump has to get out of the race before he actually loses the race.
Right now, Trump is moving through the stages of polling grief. First it was bewilderment (He told radio host Hugh Hewitt he was “very surprised” by the Iowa polling.), then denial (He told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I don’t believe I have fallen behind.”).
But at some point, if the trend continues, Trump will come to the conclusion that he really is at risk of losing. He’ll tell America he would have won and could have been president, but he didn’t want it. The office is beneath him. And he’ll let the rest of the candidates pick up his scraps. Trump has to go out on his own terms.
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