The end of Donald Trump’s campaign has been predicted continuously and erroneously since the beginning of the GOP frontrunner’s campaign. Yet there’s reason to believe that if the billionaire comes up short in his bid for the Republican nomination, this will be remembered as the week he finally started sinking. To review, this week, the frontrunner said:
- “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions (earning a swift rebuke from pro-life groups and a statement from the campaign reversing course);
- two of the federal government’s top three functions are healthcare and education, despite earlier promising if elected to eliminate the Department of Education;
- he no longer intends to honor his signed pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, while renewing his threat that denying him the nomination could unleash violence from his supporters (“I hope nothing bad happens”);
- he’s standing by his campaign manager, charged Tuesday with battery for allegedly grabbing a female reporter, and will continue to do so if the operative is convicted;
- he couldn’t rule out the use of tactical nuclear weapons, including on Europe;
- and he’d seek to nominate Supreme Court justices who would “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s “email disaster,” in an apparent misunderstanding of what Supreme Court justices do.
To varying degrees, any one of those statements would be disqualifying under ordinary circumstances. As we’ve seen, Trump’s core supporters hardly mind. But in Wisconsin, which holds its primary Tuesday, surveys show his inability to expand his backing beyond roughly a third of voters looks poised to cost him the state. Over the last month, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz surged 21 percentage points there and now leads by 10 percentage points since Trump has plateaued, according to a Marquette University poll. Losing Wisconsin would complicate Trump’s path to clinching the nomination before the party’s July convention. And that task will prove tougher if his already record-breaking unpopularity with the broader electorate continues to rise following this week’s comments.
Trump has made clear what a sore loser he’ll be if he’s denied the nod despite piling up more delegates than his competitors. But the toxicity of his daily outbursts now presents an undeniable threat to down-ballot Republicans, and that alone simplifies the squeeze facing party leaders. Ripping the crown from Trump at a contested convention would be ugly. Letting him leave with it would be uglier.