Donald Trump–fearing Republicans discovered something firsthand Monday night that the former-reality-television-star-turned-political-celebrity has known for years: It sure is fun to call someone a loser. Now the party’s faithful wants conservative voters to point and laugh along with them.
“There were two winners last night,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu told the New York Times on Tuesday morning, mentioning Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa GOP caucus, and Marco Rubio, who beat expectations to finish in third place. The setup complete, Sununu offered the not-so-subtle schadenfreude: “and there was one loser last night, and that was Trump.”
The Republican’s appraisal was hardly unique. The media—Slate included—were similarly quick to label Trump a loser after he failed to win the Iowa caucus as he had predicted. It was an assessment that was as cathartic as it was fair, given the tough-talking real estate tycoon spent the past seven months declaring that he’ll win the nomination because he’s a winner and that his rivals will lose because they are losers. Sununu wasn’t just recapping what happened during the first GOP nominating contest; he was trying to influence what will happen in the next contest. “I think Trump’s loss will remind [New Hampshire primary voters] that the guy has a history of losses,” the former governor told the paper, before helpfully reminding those same voters of Trump’s past business follies, including “Trump Vodka” and “three magazines Mr. Trump put his name on.”
It’s a line of attack that Trump’s rivals have used before, but we can expect to hear a whole lot more of it now that he appears wounded for the first time of his campaign. His rivals won’t have to go digging to find examples to buttress their case: There’s Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage, Trump Steaks, and Trump University, to name but a few Trump-branded flops. The billionaire, of course, can counter with any number of his financially successful ventures, but his opponents are hoping that voters will open their eyes to his weaknesses after his Iowa loss and that attempts to brand Trump as a loser will stick.
Will they? This strategy is not guaranteed, as Trump’s supporters have proved to be a loyal bunch when their candidate was attacked. Trump, meanwhile, remains well positioned to win New Hampshire, where he’s up in the polls by more than 20 points on Cruz and the rest of the field. Yes, Iowa’s results suggest his numbers may be inflated—but that’s about four times the cushion he had in Iowa, where he finished about 3 percentage points behind Cruz, despite a caucus process and electorate that was never as friendly to Trump as he seemed to think.
Trump looked (relatively) humbled in Iowa on Monday night and arrived in New Hampshire on Tuesday appearing weaker than he has in months. The challenge for the GOP establishment, then, is to convince voters that he really is. If they fail, though, Trump could be back to his winning ways as soon as next week.