Trump Wants You To Be Talking About His Plan To Ban Muslims And Not This Poll

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, speaks with fellow Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during a rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal outside the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

Monday was supposed to be all about Ted Cruz.

In the afternoon, the respected polling institute at Monmouth University released a poll that, for the first time, showed the Texas senator winning the Iowa caucuses. His 24 percent support rate in the politically important state marked a “clear lead” over historic frontrunner Donald Trump, the university said. It was pretty big news.

But Donald Trump eventually became bigger news. Hours after the Monmouth poll was released, the billionaire released a statement to press demanding “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Trump said the ban would apply to refugees, tourists, and even American citizens who happened to be traveling abroad. It was objectively the most Islamophobic of all his Islamophobic statements, the most aggressively divisive proposal in a campaign defined by aggressive divisiveness.

So, perhaps predictably, the news cycle that would have been about Cruz’s new lead in Iowa was abandoned, and replaced with one about Trump’s newest offense — one that would probably result in a boost for his poll numbers, as all of of his controversial proposals seem to do.

On Twitter, many reporters speculated that a distraction from Cruz’s poll numbers was exactly what media-savvy, poll-obsessed Trump had intended.

Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray even went a bit beyond speculation, reporting that an unnamed “GOP operative who knows Trump” also thought the move was partially a “reaction to Ted Cruz pulling ahead in Iowa.”

It’s not hard to see why Trump would intentionally release a controversial policy proposal as soon as his poll numbers seemed to be suffering. For one, Trump’s controversial policy proposals are exactly why he’s sustained frontrunner status for so long. But for Trump, more than any other candidate, polls represent an existential threat. He has spent his entire campaign mocking his opponents’ numbers and bragging about how easy it is to beat them. He seems to break down rhetorically when candidates’ numbers creep up behind up. A poll putting Cruz five points ahead in a key state was likely not received well by the Trump team.

Trump’s staff, however, pushed back a bit against that narrative on Monday. His national co-chair and senior policy adviser Sam Clovis told the Guardian that Trump had been “in the process of looking at this for some time.”

Clovis also added, however, that “the decision to release the plan today had come from the campaign’s main office in New York.”

Later, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump spent a large portion of his hour-long speech talking about his plan to ban Muslims from entering the country. He also spent a large portion talking about his poll numbers, including a CNN poll that showed Trump ahead of Cruz by 13 points in Iowa. He didn’t mention the Monmouth poll — but he didn’t have to. Nobody was talking about it anymore.