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Eye On Candidates
August 10, 2015

Trump Campaign Struggles in ‘Free-for-All’

The campaign of billionaire businessman Donald Trump may be in trouble in the aftermath of last Thursday’s Republican presidential debate and several of his statements in the days after, particularly those aimed at Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Politico reports on Trump’s dis-invitation from a gathering of conservative activists hosted by the conservative website RedState:

Donald Trump’s invite to RedState event revoked over Megyn Kelly comments

Donald Trump’s invitation to appear at the conservative RedState gathering has been rescinded in one of the most significant public rebukes of the controversial Republican presidential contender to date.

Trump had been slated to attend a tailgate Saturday evening at the conservative confab, where he has some fans, but RedState head Erick Erickson tweeted late Friday night that the invitation had been revoked, and later told reporters Trump had “disqualified” himself in a move that marked the “beginning of the end” for his campaign, a message he reiterated again Saturday morning as he opened up the conference.

Those statements followed inflammatory comments Trump made about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who was one of several moderators to question him at the first GOP primary debate the evening before.

The withdrawal of the invitation came at about the same time top campaign adviser Roger Stone either quit or was fired, depending on whom you believe. Fox News provides the details on Stone’s leaving the campaign:

A top political adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is off the campaign, but both sides dispute whether he was fired or quit.

A Trump spokesperson said early Saturday that high-profile adviser Roger Stone was fired.

“Roger wanted to use the campaign for his own personal publicity,” the spokesman told “He has had a number of articles about him recently, and Mr. Trump wants to keep the focus of the campaign on how to Make America Great Again."

However, Stone said later in the day that he quit, citing in part Trump’s “provocative” battles with the news media, politicians and others.

Another Politico article, “Trump camp in crisis,” suggests he may be on the cusp of being pushed out of the race, although plenty of people also noted he has weathered past controversies and emerged even stronger:

[C]onservative activists at the conference, including many who were offended by Trump’s latest comments, said they weren’t holding their breath for an apology and weren’t convinced it was a severe blow to Trump’s campaign. In interviews, several said they also expected him to flame out after making other highly inflammatory remarks — such as when he took shots at Sen. John McCain’s experience as a POW — but his poll numbers have continued to rise, leaving attendees flummoxed about how the episode ends.…

The turmoil within the campaign and the widespread condemnation of Trump’s comments may matter little to his supporters, many of whom admire him above all else as an iconoclast. “I don’t see him going away, to be quite honest,” said Bill Hood, a conservative activist and Huckabee supporter at the RedState conference. “No matter what he says, they’ll defend him.”

Probably one of the more informed pieces on Trump’s future in the 2016 nominating process is provided at by widely respected political observer Nate Silver, who suggests in “Donald Trump’s Six Stages of Doom” that Trump is likely to follow the same path as past Republican candidates who experienced momentary surges of support that didn’t hold up over the course of the campaign (Silver’s piece was written before the debate):

The recent polling surge by Donald Trump has launched a thousand stories about Trump’s “unprecedented campaign.” But it’s nothing all that unusual: Similar surges occurred for almost every Republican candidate four years ago, including Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (twice).

History’s lesson isn’t necessarily that Trump’s candidacy will go bust tomorrow, however. There are plenty of examples of fringe or factional candidates who held on to their support for much longer than the month or two that Cain and Bachmann did. Sometimes, they did well enough in Iowa or New Hampshire, or even won them. Pat Buchanan claimed New Hampshire in 1996, for instance, while Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008. Steve Forbes took 30 percent of the Iowa vote in 2000.

The lesson, rather, is that Trump’s campaign will fail by one means or another. Like Cain, Bachmann and Gingrich, Buchanan, Huckabee and Forbes came nowhere close to winning the Republican nomination.

Silver suggests Trump has a 2 percent chance of winning the GOP nomination and goes through the six stages of what he views as Trump’s probable ultimate failure (free-for-all; heightened scrutiny; Iowa and New Hampshire; winnowing; delegate accumulation; and endgame), explaining the very serious challenges Trump faces in each stage and finally concluding:

So, how do I wind up with that 2 percent estimate of Trump’s nomination chances? It’s what you get if you assume he has a 50 percent chance of surviving each subsequent stage of the gantlet. Tonight’s debate could prove to be the beginning of the end for Trump, or he could remain a factor for months to come. But he’s almost certainly doomed, sooner or later.

Silver could be wrong, of course – Trump won’t face the funding challenges that most other “fringe or factional” candidates have (Forbes was the exception), and that alone could keep him in contention long past the time any other candidate might be forced to drop out. But the current turmoil and controversy surrounding his campaign do suggest he may not even survive the “free-for-all” stage.