The Slatest

New National GOP Poll Shows Trump Trailing Ted Cruz. Is It for Real?

If Donald Trump’s campaign had an unspoken (unofficial) motto it would be: Always be winning. The appearance of winning is vitally important to candidate Trump, whose campaign, much like a Ponzi scheme, always feels one errant Jenga-block-of-truth away from utter collapse. Trump, after all, disdains losing and those who engage in it, and casts himself as a winner of contests, a conqueror of challenges, vanquisher of foes, all done with a self-affirmative style that’s part Stuart Smalley, part Jack Donaghy.

The Trump Express hit a slight bump in the inevitable road to everlasting victory Wednesday in the form of a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of likely GOP voters that showed the Donald was—gasp—losing! The survey was put in the field after Saturday’s GOP debate in South Carolina and shows Trump trailing Ted Cruz by two points, 28 to 26 percent, followed by Marco Rubio with 17 percent, John Kasich at 11 percent, Ben Carson at 10 percent, and Jeb Bush bringing up the rear with 4 percent.

Does this mean Trump is doomed? Well, no. First, the difference is within the margin of error, and for some context, Trump has led the GOP field nationally in 31 straight polls, mostly by double-digit leads. The political ground could certainly be shifting, although a similarly timed poll that included pre-debate responses showed Trump with a whopping 20-point lead over any of his rivals. NBC News quotes the pollster who conducted the survey as saying “Trump’s drop could signal being ‘right on top of a shift in the campaign.’ ” But, you know, what did you expect the pollster to say? Hmm, these numbers look funny? The other alternative is that the poll is an outlier, headed for the dustbin of history with all of the other misfit toys, and that Trump’s lead is still, well, yuge.

Read more Slate coverage of the GOP primary.