Have you ever bid at an auction before? There's an art to the process. Sure, the person with the biggest wallet can always walk away with the prize, but the goal is to do so while shelling out as little as possible. This takes smarts, instinct and the ability to know when to bow out gracefully.
Donald Trump is currently making the most important bid of his life: to become president of the United States. And until recently, he was doing pretty darn well. He outmanoeuvred 16 competitors during primary season, all while putting up next to no money.
With the auction house cleared out, there's only one competitor left -- Hillary Clinton. And in the wake of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it's become increasingly clear Donald no longer owns the room. Hillary has her hand firmly grasped on the bidding paddle, and she's working it like a seasoned pro.
Let's cast the auction analogy aside for a moment and ask the big question: what's next for Donald Trump? Newly released polls show Clinton enjoying up to a double-digit lead, courtesy of her strong DNC showing and Trump's recent avalanche of image-eroding squabbles. To date, his campaign's mission statement is as on-point as ever with regards to November: Hillary will be defeated and Washington will get its long-overdue Extreme Makeover.
[Hillary Clinton] will, by obvious definition, be the winner. Which would make Trump the loser. And Trump. Doesn't. Lose. Ever.
Behind the scenes, however, a growing number of campaign sources say self-awareness has begun to seep in. For what may be the first time ever, Trump is becoming cognizant of his campaign's mortality. Should Clinton clinch the election, she will, by obvious definition, be the winner. Which would make Trump the loser. And Trump. Doesn't. Lose. Ever. Using that word to describe him is like calling Fonzie uncool. It's incongruous with his entire identity, and therefore cannot be allowed. This presents us with two strategies Trump may very well use to bypass the looming "loser" label.
The Scenario: Clinton defeats Trump in November.
The Trump Strategy: Blame the Democrats, rake in the love.
"I'm afraid the election's going to be rigged. I have to be honest," Trump recently told Ohio supporters. Hours later, he doubled down on Fox News' Hannity, saying, "I've been hearing about it for a long time... I'm telling you, November 8, we'd better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged."
Sure, losing an election fair and square goes against the core of Trump's "winning" brand. But getting trounced in a rigged election? That makes him a populist martyr, not a loser. Sure, over half the country will call bullshit on such a conspiracy theory, but fervent Trump supporters -- a.k.a. the folks who really matter -- will adore their maligned leader (and denounce Crooked Hillary) all the more.
The Scenario: Pollsters confirm Trump cannot win in November.
The Trump Strategy: Blame the Republicans, rake in the love.
Unless Trump dies or falls into a vegetative state, the GOP has no legal grounds to replace him before election time. He can, however, resign at any time -- an option that sounds entirely implausible until we really examine it. Were Trump the captain of the Titanic, would you expect him to nobly ride the old gal to the bottom of the North Atlantic? Not likely: he'd commandeer a life raft before the first evacuation announcement went over the loudspeakers. Sinking is for losers, son.
As such, Trump's election strategy becomes clear. If there's no path to victory, duck out early and blame the Republican establishment. Throw out words like "incompetent," "collusion" and "obstructionist."
Enacting this solution is surprisingly simple: keep pissing off Republican leaders until they have no choice but to disavow him. (Effective approaches include denigrating a grieving Gold Star family, badmouthing babies, refusing to endorse a House speaker and former GOP presidential candidate).
Once party members finally say "enough is enough," Trump can simply take his ball and go home, telling supporters the Big Bad Republicans were hell-bent on sabotaging his movement to keep the status quo intact. Bonus: the longer he waits, the fewer states will be in a position to stick his replacement's name on the ballot. End result: a decisive election loss, with massive Democrat gains in the House and Senate.
Yep, it's a fire sale -- a total scorched earth strategy. And well within in the realm of possibility. "Oh, if only the GOP played nice with Donald, those bastards. He'd have won for sure if he stuck around." Once again, say hello to Donald the Martyr. And to doctor a phrase from the Clinton camp, "Martyr Trumps Loser."
As unlikely as these options may seem to some, there's always a third scenario: Clinton wins in November and Trump graciously admits defeat.
Honestly, which of these sounds the craziest now? Let the bidding begin.
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