And increasingly, it seems, Trump has losing on the brain.
At numerous junctures in recent weeks and especially over the past 10 days, Trump has referred to what it would mean if he lost, pre-blamed certain things for his potential loss, and expressed apoplexy that he could be losing to this particular opponent, Joe Biden.
“Running against him, it puts such pressure because I’m running against the worst in the history of presidential — and now if I lose, can you imagine?” Trump said Saturday. “If I lose, I will have lost to the worst candidate, the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics. If I lose, what do I do? I’d rather run against somebody who’s extraordinarily talented, at least, this way I can go and lead my life.”
(Trump has in recent days repeatedly offered some version of this riff, which recalls the famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which Jon Lovitz’s Michael Dukakis says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”)
Trump also referred Friday to what he might do if he loses, including joking about leaving the country.
“Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life, what am I going to do?” Trump said. “I’m going to say I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics. I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country. I don’t know.”
(Trump has offered similar comments while talking about the voters of Minnesota and North Carolina, joking that he’ll never return to their states if he loses.)
Two days prior, Trump lamented that if he loses, things he has set in motion will reflect positively upon Biden.
“Can you imagine if I lose and I’ve done all these things, they kick in on January 1st?” Trump said of his efforts on surprise medical billing. “You’re going to say, ‘Boy, that Biden’s done a great job with price transparency.’ ”
On Oct. 9, Trump appeared on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show for two hours and occasionally referred to the possibility of losing.
“And maybe I’ll lose because they’ll say I’m not a nice person,” Trump said. “I think I am a nice person. I help people. I like to help people.”
While Trump’s riffs on his potential loss have increased and expanded in recent days, this isn’t completely new territory for him. Both in 2016 and today, he has occasionally offered preemptive excuses for his potential loss, mostly by lodging hyperbolic and factually incorrect statements about potential voter fraud.
“It’s a rigged election,” Trump said last month. “It’s the only way we’re going to lose.”
He added in August that people should verify that their mail-in ballots are counted, “because the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged; remember that.”
Despite Trump’s claims, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, including in voting by mail, and many of Trump’s allegations about isolated instances have quickly fallen apart.
But Trump has also expanded the argument lately, suggesting that strict mitigation efforts by Democratic governors, including ones in key 2020 states, have deliberately hampered the economic recovery he so badly wants to run on.
“Take a look at the numbers, and that’s despite the fact that we have like five or six of these Democrats keeping their states closed because they’re trying to hurt us on November 3rd,” Trump said Sunday. “But the numbers are so good anyway. They’d be even better, but New York should be open. Michigan now has to open because of the court case. North Carolina should be open. They should be open. You guys, you want to open. Yeah, you want to open. Pennsylvania has to open. I mean, you know.”
During a rally in Minnesota last month, Trump also jokingly said he would blame GOP Senate candidate Jason Lewis if he loses.
“If I lose to [Biden], I don’t know what I’m going to do. I will never speak to you again. You’ll never see me again,” Trump said. “I’m going to blame Jason if I lose.”
Trump offered similar comments in jest about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday: “If we don’t win it, I’m blaming the governor. I’ll fire him somehow.”
And he said the same thing the same day at a separate rally about Georgia Republican Party chairman, David Shafer, again joking that he wouldn’t speak to him if they lose the state. Trump added: “We have a new state chairman of the Georgia GOP — if we don’t win, but we’re going to win — David Shafer.”
Jokes, yes. But it’s also pretty clear Trump is somewhat preoccupied with the prospect of losing. Generally, candidates will project confidence in their prospects to keep their supporters energized and optimistic. To be clear, Trump has done that, too, often referring to nonexistent polls that show him way ahead in states like Michigan and Georgia. And perhaps there’s something to be said for warning people about the prospect of their side losing.
But it wouldn’t seem like a great look to repeatedly allude to the idea that you might be about to lose to the worst candidate in modern history. And the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reported a couple weeks ago that advisers say Trump “has telegraphed to them that he is scared of losing — and in particular, scared of losing to Mr. Biden, whom he does not respect.”
That reporting has certainly been borne out by what Trump has said in the 2½ weeks since. Trump’s invocation of losing and losing to his specific opponent are more frequent today even than they were in the 2016 campaign, when most also expected that would be his fate. Anyone who can read polls, though, can see that prospect looms larger now than it did then, and perhaps Trump — despite his protestations about the polls — can see it, too.