This theory isn’t new, really, but it is more prominent among #NeverTrumpers on social media lately thanks to Trump’s recent hot streak — insulting Heidi Cruz, defending Corey Lewandowski and doubling down on attacking Michelle Fields, and today’s latest master stroke, taking a dump on national TV on 40 years’ worth of carefully constructed pro-life messaging. The best statement of the theory I’ve seen lately is this Twitter tirade by Lachlan Markay. If Trump was trying to blow up his own campaign, would he be doing anything different right now?

Here’s a frightening thought in light of the last few days: what if Trump is actively attempting to sabotage his own candidacy? Bear with me

I don’t think he ever actually wanted to be POTUS. He just wanted to be able to say he *could* be if he chose to do so. Winning, etc.

And now he realizes what a sh*t job this would be. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not entirely sure that he’s up to the immense task.

But he can’t just drop out. He’s a winner after all. And he needs to preserve his winner persona, for the sake of his ego if nothing else.

So he triples down on the Michelle Fields fiasco, says some crazy sh*t about abortion, Cruz crushes it in WI, momentum shifts.

He’s banking on a brokered convention. He wants to be robbed so he can say that he was actually the winner but the establishment f*cked him.

He would maintain his public persona, cement his status as an anti-establishment hero, but never actually have to do any icky governing.

Come 2017, his brand is hotter than its ever been and he can do pretty much whatever he wants – which I don’t think is actually politics.

Of course this would completely tear apart the GOP, but if it’s not totally clear by now, Trump does not give two sh*ts about the party.

So the Party of Lincoln would be dead, Hillary would be president, but at least we’d steer clear of the American decline he’d precipitate.

Clever, but I don’t buy it, and I say that as a man who pushed a variation of this theory myself last year when Trumpmania was in its infancy. My brilliant hypothesis was that Trump would find a pretext to exit the race before Iowa voted if voters didn’t force him out first by tanking his polls. There’s no way, I said, that an egomaniac this fragile would subject himself to the risk of a brand-shattering series of defeats. Trump’s image depends on him being seen as the consummate winner. If he could find a way to get out while semi-plausibly claiming that he would have won had he stayed in the race, that would be ideal for him. He could leave satisfied that he was in fact the “real winner,” his brand intact.

That theory, the “honorable exit,” worked out well, didn’t it? Markay’s version is really just the “honorable exit” in the form of a brokered convention. By alienating enough constituencies within the GOP and convincing the delegates that he’s totally unelectable this fall, he’s setting himself up to have the nomination “stolen” from him in Cleveland. He’ll leave as the “real winner.” He’ll exert his influence by attacking the GOP nominee, who’ll almost certainly be Ted Cruz, all summer and fall. When Cruz loses, he’ll say — not incorrectly — that the Republican Party can’t win unless it satisfies his supporters. They’re the kingmakers, and he’s their king. He’ll be a major player at least through the 2018 midterms and almost certainly into the 2020 election, with Republican candidates for various offices forced to kiss his ass as needed to earn his support. And like Markay says, the best part is that he’ll be spared the humiliation of a resounding defeat this fall or the headache of having to actually do a job that’s famously difficult even for people who are qualified for it, which he isn’t.

Still, I don’t buy it. To believe Markay’s theory requires you to believe, a la Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter, that Trump actually knows what he’s doing. He’s not a guy in over his head who’s lettin’ it rip on highly sensitive questions about abortion; he’s actually a genius who’s carefully crafting one performance after another which he knows, cumulatively, will succeed in destroying his chances of winning. In Nate Silver’s formulation, Trump is either the most brilliant political tactician of his era or just a guy randomly mashing buttons. I’m going to guess that retweeting a “Melania’s hotter than Heidi Cruz” photo was not, in fact, a coolly calculated play to turn millions of voters against him but really just a juvenile way of high-fiving his fans on late-night Twitter without any thought for the consequences. I.e. mashing buttons. To believe that Trump’s sabotaging himself by playing puppet-master to the entire national media and the GOP electorate is, in an odd irony, basically to accept the “Green Lantern” nature of Trump’s candidacy. He’s convinced his followers that he really does have super powers that’ll let him achieve great things that mere mortal presidents can’t. Now he’s convincing his critics that he has super powers capable of orchestrating a very particular set of circumstances in which he exits from the race while claiming to have been the true victor.

If all he wants to do is get out of the race and declare himself the winner, he doesn’t need to bother with the next three months and the ensuing convention drama. He can take the next logical step now that he’s rescinded his pledge to support the nominee: Quit the party on grounds that he’s been “treated unfairly” and that the fix is obviously in at the convention and run as a third-party candidate. If sore-loser laws prevent him from getting on the ballot, organize a write-in campaign. He could do that tomorrow if he wants. He’ll get all the same benefits as he would under Markay’s theory with zero risk that he might just end up being nominated in Cleveland after all. Cruz, the nominee, will almost certainly lose as the party splits, and Trump can go around telling everyone that of course he would have won the nomination if the RNC and its delegate cronies hadn’t conspired against him. Why bother hiring people to hunt for delegates if the plan is to lose eventually? Lose now and start phase two of Trumpmania: Donald Trump, kingmaker.

If there really is a secret plan to lose, though, it looks like it’s working. That new 10-point Cruz lead in Wisconsin isn’t the only poll out today showing a very recent shift away from Trump among Republicans:


That’s Reuters’s national tracking poll; the red line is Trump and the green line is Cruz. Trump’s led all month, most of it by double digits, but something changed in the last week or so among Republicans. Is that the fallout from attacking Cruz’s wife on Twitter coming back to haunt him or something else?

Anyway. Here’s the man of the people showing off his common touch.