“I believe in polls,” Trump told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd in October. “How many elections do you see where the polls were wrong? Not that many.”
But since that interview in October, things have gone decidedly downhill for Trump’s poll numbers. The Republican billionaire is still leading by a lot in New Hampshire, but in Iowa and nationally, he is tied with neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Slowly by surely, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are creeping up behind him. And the pressure of the tightening race seems to be taking its toll.
On Thursday, Trump delivered a 95-minute rant in Iowa that surprised even the most jaded Trump watchers. The Washington Post deemed it “the monologue of a man grappling with why he is running for president — and if it’s really worth it or not. Even for a candidate full of surprises, the speech was surprising.”
— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) November 13, 2015
In some ways, the speech were just as unhinged as usual for the unorthodox candidate. From the Post:
He took credit for predicting the threat of Osama bin Laden and being right on the “anchor baby situation,” a position he says “these great geniuses from Harvard Law School” now back. He uttered the word “crap” at least three times, and promised to “bomb the s — -” out of oil fields benefiting terrorists. He signed a book for a guy in the audience and then tossed it back at him with a flip: “Here you go, baby. I love you.” … He accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of playing the “woman’s card,” and said Marco Rubio is “weak like a baby.
But the real surprise came when Trump unleashed a prolonged attack on Ben Carson, and then accused the crowd of siding with the neurosurgeon.
At one point, during a 10-minute attack “dripping with disdain” on the candidate, Trump compared Carson to a child molester — a person with a “pathological disease” that can’t be cured. He repeated that same child molester comparison in an interview with CNN Thursday night, saying Carson was “pathological” because of factual discrepancies in the neurosurgeon’s autobiography, Gifted Hands.
One of those discrepancies in Carson’s autobiography arose from his story about how, as a young boy, he claimed he tried to stab a friend in the stomach. Fortunately, Carson said he accidentally stabbed his friend’s belt buckle instead, and the knife broke.
Trump took issue with that story on Thursday — and turned it against the crowd of Iowans.
“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Trump asked, after flipping over his own belt buckle and daring audience members to come up to the stage and drive a knife into it. “How stupid are the people of this country to believe this crap?”
But it wasn’t the first time Trump has extended disparaging remarks to voters themselves for not supporting him in his race for the presidency. Just two weeks ago, at another Iowa event, he complained about being second in the polls, and blamed the crowd for not supporting him.
“What the hell are you people doing to me?” he asked. “Iowa, will you get your numbers up, please?”
For pundits, this seemed to mark a shift in Trump’s political rhetoric, from arrogant braggadocios to arrogant disbelief. A.B. Stoddard, a columnist for The Hill, said on Fox News that she thinks Trump is starting to worry that “the game is up in Iowa — and he doesn’t have that second act, which is the humor and resilience you’re supposed to show when you’re losing.”
But Trump is not losing. He’s just no longer winning in every state by enormously wide margins. The question is whether his temperament is suited for anything but unanimous victory.