There’s a campaign dynamic now coming into view which under other circumstances might only be a matter of trash talk or taunt. In this unique campaign cycle, however, it will likely be a driving issue. Put simply, as Donald Trump’s poll numbers continue to fall (or more likely become more anchored in a position with him clearly behind) he is himself being lowered onto his own personal kryptonite: Loserdom.
This one charge, taunt, attack will rile and unhinge him more than any other. That he’s a loser. At the moment, the facts leave little question that that is what he is.
In the Trumpian world of pure alpha dominance no failure or state of existence is more total, hopeless, unmanning or unbearable. And he’s there. He is now living there in public, each day, for all to see. The state of his loserdom is even helpfully enumerated on most days in new poll numbers. A brittle, narcissistic ego, coddled for decades by armies of yes men and a generally fawning business and tabloid press, won’t hold up well under that kind of strain.
Losing is always hard. Few of us have ever been candidates for public office. But we all know this from our own lives. But it is uniquely hard for Trump’s campaign because the campaign’s entire premise is “winning” and what I’ve called dominance politics. Losing is hard for any campaign – both emotionally for all involved but also because losing is demoralizing and can trigger a self-perpetuating cycle. But most campaigns have issue agendas, goals that provide an emotional and aspirational ballast to the effort. You may be losing but that doesn’t invalidate what you believe or the substance of your proposed policies. That’s not true for Trump because “winning” isn’t just the goal it’s the raison d’etre and premise of the whole effort. A candidacy based on “winning” which is in fact losing and perhaps losing badly isn’t just on the ropes; it begins to look ridiculous.
If you are campaigning on the fact that you’re a winner but you’re losing, the premise of your campaign just falls apart.
Just as polls created a positive feedback loop for Trump in the primaries, where they seemed to confirm that no transgression or conventional misstep could hurt him, he is now entering a negative feedback loop with the same polls. The perception of losing amplifies every misstep. It makes him lose more both because the premise of the campaign starts to collapse in on itself but because losing so publicly puts the brittle edifice of his narcissistic ego under an insuperable strain.
Put simply, he gets more erratic.
I suspect that in a couple months this will become the sum of most of the Democrats’ attacks on Trump both because it undermines the central premise of his campaign (“I always win; and I can make you win too.”) but also because these attacks visibly cut Trump so deeply, triggering a sort of unfolding psychic disembowelment. You can see it in the increasingly irritated and thin-skinned responses to criticism or any references to his flagging campaign.
It is also why Elizabeth Warren – an unexpected Twitter street fighter – has gotten so deeply under his skin. Trump isn’t just losing. He’s getting stomped by two women – in his world the ultimate, catastrophic indignity.
At some point in the not distant future, some reporter – probably a not altogether pleasant one – will ask Trump: “How does it feel to be losing so badly? Just on a personal level? Does it hurt? Do regret getting into this?”
It won’t be pretty because Trump’s ego is fragile. From that moment I suspect you’ll see it cropping up in campaign attacks from every direction.