Does Donald Trump have a political death wish?

Elections can be lost in August, and Trump seems determined

Paul Manafort is either actively overseeing the most dysfunctional major presidential campaign in, well, ever, or he’s given up trying to influence his candidate and he’s merely banking checks.

 Some news reports claiming access to candid insiders say it’s the latter, but even if it’s the former, how would anyone know the difference? It’s exactly like I have been saying and writing for months: If Donald Trump were trying to lose the election, what would he be doing differently?

 But there was Manafort on “CBS This Morning” Thursday, explaining his candidate’s gobbledygook for the umpteenth time when he reminded the hosts that elections aren’t won in November, not August.

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That may be, and it must be conceded Manafort is an old Republican hand. He knows campaign calendars. But if November is when elections are won, that doesn’t prevent them from being lost in August, or even July. Certain missteps — like spending days maligning a Gold Star family — scar the memory beyond mending, or forgiveness.

And so is suggesting the American people should think their electoral system is no better than one in a banana republic, proclaiming outright that, based on certain court rulings, the outcome of his race with Democrat Hillary Clinton is almost certainly rigged.

Now the GOP’s presidential nominee is refusing to endorse incumbents in his party who face newsworthy reelection challenges. John McCain is bad on veterans issues, he says, but otherwise his snubs involve failures of fealty, not policy: Speaker Paul Ryan wasn’t sufficiently full-throated and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte has withheld support entirely.

What is this, “The Godfather, Part IV”?

Then again, given Trump’s sudden plummet in the polls — the last time there was a 9-point spread in August, the leader (Ronald Reagan) scored a 49-state triumph — the shunned trio might be thankful for small favors. The titular head of the Republican Party is suddenly radioactive, as was noticed by Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who famously spent $158 million of her own money in a failed California gubernatorial bid in 2010.

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A Republican who very likely would have played a senior role in virtually any other GOP administration, Whitman declared Wednesday she’d seen enough of Trump’s buffoonery, and wasn’t just throwing her support to Clinton — who remains wretched, venal, misguided, untruthful, clutching and screechy (my words, not Whitman’s, although they could be) — she also would raise money on her behalf.

The response in the Trump camp has been classic denial. Their guy needs to “get back on message.” Who are they kidding? Attacks and insults mixed with ignorance and policies that are usually half-baked, thinly explained and quickly reversed are Trump’s hallmark.

Last weekend, for instance, when he ought to have been whaling away on second-quarter GDP growth — a horrific 1.2 percent — and the continuing unraveling of the exchanges fundamental to Obamacare, and linking both to the exquisitely flawed Clinton, who means to stay the current course, Trump was demonstrating a spellbinding ignorance of recent history (see: Putin, Russia, Crimea) when he wasn’t comparing his “sacrifices” as head of a multi-billion-dollar corporation to those of parents whose soldier son died a hero’s death in Iraq.

No candidate who seriously wants to win does that. But that’s precisely what the Donald has done from the moment he descended the Trump Tower elevator in June 2015, a narcissistic billionaire celebrity embarking on an unserious campaign heavy on name-calling, facile solutions to serious dilemmas and an alarming absence of curiosity.

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Does Trump know what the nuclear triad is yet? He was asked twice in a span of weeks by talk show pundit Hugh Hewitt — radio’s best interviewer — last year, once on his show and again at the first GOP debate, and neither time did he demonstrate the slightest awareness about America’s decades-old nuclear deterrent strategy.

The triad is sure to come up again when he and Clinton debate, if only to see whether he’s done any homework. Has he? A candidate interested in winning would know it. Trump, who claims to watch a lot of cable news, didn’t even know Russia had annexed Crimea, and that was on all the shows.

By comparison, talk of the nuclear triad usually turns up only on somber policy shows with bad production values on PBS. Of course he’s not going to know. The third time will not be the charm.

Because there’s scant evidence Trump really wants to win. Maybe he never did. But now, like a righteous jihadi in an explosive vest, he seems ready to take the entire GOP down with him.

Veteran journalist and center-right blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife, two children and a couple of yappy dogs.