Is it conceivable that Donald Trump might drop out of the presidential race?
The answer has to be yes, if only because with Trump, nothing is inconceivable. He says and does inconceivable stuff at a rate that is itself inconceivable.
And of course, the answer also depends on the path that the campaign takes. If this week’s complete collapse of polling support proves to be temporary, if Trump somehow crawls back within five or six points of Hillary Clinton, that’s one thing. The race will then play out through the debates to November.
However, if the race stabilizes with Trump trailing by double digits, if the adoring crowds start to shrink and Republican officials start to denounce him, that could create a whole new dynamic. Because we know two things about Trump:
1.) His self-image as a winner is the most precious thing in the world to him, and he would do anything to protect it.
2.) He cannot stand to be ridiculed (which is probably why President Obama takes obvious joy in doing so).
As Trump may soon discover, there’s actually a very thin line between “dire threat to the republic” and “national laughingstock.” The threat to the republic you take seriously. You have to confront it, fight it and defeat it. However, once that threat is neutralized, once it becomes clear that the danger has been drained from it and there’s no real chance of it hurting you, it then becomes something that people laugh about. It’s just human nature. You laugh at what once scared you.
Somebody get me Lin Manuel Miranda’s cell phone number.
It’s also worth noting that there are ways of quitting that fall short of officially quitting. Sports teams do it all the time, as Atlanta baseball and football fans can testify. At some point in a long, hopeless season, they start mailing it in, although given the lack of policy preparation and campaign organization already demonstrated by Trump, it might be hard to tell if and when that happens.
There’s also the exit strategy pioneered by Trump’s buddy Mike Tyson. When he was getting his butt kicked by Evander Holyfield back in 1997, Tyson didn’t quit, at least not officially. Instead, to end his frustration and humiliation, Tyson chewed off a chunk of Evander’s ear and spit it onto the canvas, ending the fight that way. And it would be completely in character for Trump to respond to losing by becoming even more irrational in his attacks and various conspiracy theories, making a mockery of the whole process.
Although again, it might be hard to tell. You could argue that with his mutterings about rigged elections, he’s reached this point already.
However, if Trump were to officially withdraw from the race, he would need to find a face-saving excuse, a way to blame it on something or someone other than himself. And the truth is that it’s not too hard to imagine what that excuse might be.
If Trump continues to collapse, if he continues to act the fool on the national stage, if elected Republicans start to denounce him in hopes of saving themselves, it is completely plausible and even likely that Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee would decide to cuts their losses, abandon Trump and focus financial resources and staff on rescuing as many down-ballot Republicans as possible.
At that point, Trump could vow to fight on anyway, as political pros always do. But Trump isn’t a political pro, and he doesn’t strike me as a man willing to take one for the team. He could accuse the Republican establishment of complete betrayal, an argument that much of his base is already prepared to believe, and then quit the race in protest. I’m not saying that’s likely to happen. But I’m sure not going to sit here and tell you that it won’t.