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Is Donald Trump actually preparing to lose?

Modes of thought

Donald Trump pitches himself as a 'winner,' and his tirades against an allegedly rigged delegate system could allow him to maintain that claim, even if he loses.

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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on Sunday in Staten Island, N.Y.
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Is Donald Trump getting ready to lose the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention?

Yes, yes, this seems like a crazy question at the moment. In public, Mr. Trump and his aides are currently spitting fire about the possibility that a contested convention might turn to someone other than him. At a rally in Syracuse, N.Y., over the weekend, the real estate billionaire said that the GOP would have a “rough July at that convention” if Ted Cruz or some white knight candidate walks off with the crown.

In other words, he’s predicting some sort of unrest. This follows on the heels of a Trump op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that insisted the complicated Republican delegate rules are “rigged.”

Trump’s primary goal with this bluster is probably to galvanize supporters and perhaps give some unbound or possibly faithless delegates second thoughts about bolting to Team Cruz. But as Caitlin Huey-Burns points out Monday in RealClearPolitics, it might also provide him with an escape route from humiliation.

“If he falls short of the 1,237 requisite delegates, and can’t use this message to woo more his way before or at the convention, Trump can tell his supporters that the party establishment wronged him,” Ms. Huey-Burns writes.

In other words, Trump would be able to claim he won, even if he loses. That would protect his brand and his image and allow him to forever brag he’d have been president if it weren’t for those meddling kids. Excuse me, insider politicians.

Some pundits think this has been his strategy all along. He’s never wanted to be president, or even the nominee, goes this theory. The whole thing is an exercise in publicity that went wrong by being too successful.

Thus his inability to win insider delegate contests isn’t a failure. It’s a tactic, in this view. (Which is admittedly a bit out there.) He’ll lose a multiple-ballot contested convention, then walk relatively unscathed as candidate Cruz loses to Hillary Clinton.

“All of the anger he’s ginned up over the course of his campaign would be directed at party elders, with no danger of it ever reflecting back onto Trump himself,” writes Drew Magary at GQ.

What’s our view? This is overthinking. Trump’s not executing a clever plan to extricate himself from the race without appearing to quit. He’s doing what he’s always done: being Trump.

If he wanted to lose, or even lay the groundwork for a graceful exit if necessary, would he have hired GOP operatives Rick Wiley and Paul Manafort to run a new delegate and convention-prep effort? That’s expensive. Would he be trying to improve his delegate ground game at all? No, he wouldn’t. He’d be insisting that his poll numbers prove he’d win at the convention no matter what, while doing little behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, some Republican National Committee officials seem to have tired of the abuse and are beginning to push back against Trump’s tirades. On Monday, RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer said in an MSNBC interview that “close” doesn’t cut it in the nomination fight, and that you have win a majority of 1,237 delegates to claim the nomination. Period.

“It’s not horseshoes,” he said.

If Trump doesn’t reach the 1,237 threshold, the weeks prior to the convention will be some of the most interesting in recent American politics, as the various factions involved struggle to gain the upper hand before the TV lights switch on in Cleveland.

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