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Friday, August 18, 2017

They hate him; they really hate him.

Donald Trump is not the golden boy he thought he was. He thought he could build an invincible campaign by combining media manipulation on one hand and nativist bigotry on the other.

He is a celebrity in a nation that goes gaga for celebrities. Then add to that his enormous wealth and his stupendous toys, such as his Boeing 757. (I really thought I was going to puke if I read one more time that the seat-belt buckles on that plane are plated in 24-karat gold.)

Rarely has a candidate quoted the polls as often as Trump. They showed him growing and growing in popularity, and he actually believed they were an unassailable revelation of the future.

He not only believed in the polls; to him they were proof that his campaign of bigotry and intolerance was working. Americans must want Muslims banned from entering the country. They must want a wall to keep Mexicans out, and they must be nuts enough to believe Trump would get Mexico to pay for it.

What’s the proof? The polls! They showed him winning Iowa handily, and Trump believed in them so much, he utterly rejected the notion that second place would be good enough.

“Unless I win, I would consider this a big, fat, beautiful — and, by the way, a very expensive — waste of time,” he said.

But he did not win. To use his term, he got schlonged.

The loss was not huge in terms of numbers — he lost by 4 percentage points to Ted Cruz — but it was huge in terms of expectations. Trump had said second place was worthless. And now he found himself in second place.

There was one other factor that made his Iowa loss so dangerous to his future: It appears that people came out in large numbers for the purpose of defeating him.

A large turnout was supposed to help Trump. But the turnout was huge, the largest in history for the Republicans, and Trump lost. Why?

J. Ann Selzer, the most respected pollster in Iowa, wrongly predicted Trump would win, but afterward she had an interesting observation.

In Iowa voters get to chat and argue with each other at the polling place before the voting begins. Iowa is a state of small towns, and it is usually neighbors talking to neighbors, trying to persuade them to switch candidates.

Selzer believes this helped doom Trump.

“Trump’s unpopularity made it hard to convince anyone just leaning toward another candidate or undecided to move his way,” Selzer wrote. “Much easier for Rubio and Cruz to pick up votes in the room.”

“Trump’s unpopularity”? Trump didn’t think he had any unpopularity.

But now actual human beings are voting instead of just pollsters polling, and the truth is coming out: Trump is not quite the superstar he thinks he is.

And for a few hours, his Iowa loss appeared to teach Trump a lesson.

“People can change; I’ve changed a little bit,” Trump told reporters after his defeat.

It appeared as if a new Trump had risen from the ashes of defeat: restrained. Contrite. And almost human.

But, alas, totally phony. Not long after the new Trump was born, the old Trump took over. And he decided he lost not because of any personal failings or because of any political stands he took.

No, Trump decided (as many in the press did, by the way) that he lost because he did not participate in the last debate in Iowa, deciding to hold his own rally for veterans instead.

“I raised $6 million for the vets!” Trump boomed. “If I took a second place instead of a first place and could give the vets $6 million, I’ll do that all day long.”

If so, why didn’t he just give $6 million to the vets? That is couch-cushion money to Trump. He could have written a check for $6 million and gone to the last debate and won Iowa. At least in his mind.

(I really hope that some media outlet assigns a reporter to trace how much of the $6 million actually ends up in the hands of needy veterans, by the way.)

At a rally in Milford, New Hampshire, on the day after his Iowa loss, the old Trump had taken final control. “Cruz was born in Canada,” Trump said for the umpteenth time. “He gets the nomination and (the Democrats) are going to sue his ass off!”

There was one change in Trump, however. Even though the latest polls show him winning by an average 21.1 percentage points in New Hampshire, Trump is going to do something in New Hampshire that he didn’t do in Iowa.

“I’m going to start spending a lot. … I don’t want to take any chances,” he said.

This means more TV ads getting Trump’s face and voice in front of Granite State voters. The risk, however, is that the more voters see and hear Trump, the less they will like him.

In New Hampshire, the largest portion of voters is “undeclared.” They make up 44 percent of the electorate. And on election day next Tuesday, they can go to their polling place and ask for either a Democratic or Republican ballot.

Will they vote as Democrats in order to make Bernie Sanders, of neighboring Vermont, a winner over Hillary Clinton?

Or will they vote as Republicans in order to defeat Donald Trump?

“We can no longer be the stupid country,” Trump said Tuesday.

Exactly. And voting against him is a way to prove we are not.

Roger Simon is Politico‘s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up gesture at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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