When Mitt Romney lost in 2012, there was very little discussion of blame. Everyone assumed that Romney simply lost because he didn't do a good enough job of convincing voters to punch the ballot for him. He didn't debate Barack Obama properly; he didn't stand up to Candy Crowley; he backed off of the Benghazi issue, or botched it completely; he gratuitously insulted 47 percent of Americans.
Romney lost, Republicans generally believed, because Romney deserved to lose -- even if he deserved to win morally.
That's not so for Donald Trump.
Never has a presidential candidate had so many ready-made excuses for his mess of a campaign. Since the primaries, Trump's defenders have justified his every gaffe by saying, "Well, he's just a businessman!" His anti-conservative heresies have been excused with a wave of the hand and a comment of, "Well, conservatism has never accomplished anything, anyway!" His general ignorance with regard to basic issues has been shrugged away: "He's learning!" His general unpopularity has been attributed not to his own narcissistic nastiness but to an unnamed group of conspirators out to get him. Sometimes, it's the eeeeevil "cuck" Never Trumpers hiding in their holes, waiting to strike him down at any moment. Sometimes, it's the Machiavellian "establishment" seeking to crush this supposed change agent. And sometimes, it's a suspiciously defective earpiece forcing him to go soft on David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.
Now, after his airplane vomit bag of a debate performance -- a performance in which he spent the first 30 minutes bloodying Hillary Clinton, only to revert to insecure, incoherent defenses of birtherism, his business record and his Iraq war opposition -- Trump has a whole new set of excuses.
First, Trump's defenders attack his microphone. Yes, his microphone. According to Trump, some nefarious conspiracy took place to sabotage his weapon of mass instruction, throwing him off his game. This seems both implausible and irrelevant.
More realistically, Trump's defenders rightly point out that debate moderator Lester Holt hit Trump far harder than he hit Clinton. That's absolutely true. Holt interrupted Trump far more frequently -- although, in Holt's defense, Trump bulldozed both him and Clinton routinely. Holt asked Trump about birtherism and his Iraq war opposition and his IRS records and his mean comments about Clinton's "look," but didn't ask Clinton about the Clinton Foundation or Benghazi. And he asked her zero follow-up questions about her private email server. Holt clearly did Clinton's dirty work.
Trump has known this entire campaign that the media would target him. He said so before the debate. He had every opportunity to swivel and hit both Clinton and the media, and he failed to do so. That's on him.
This entire campaign is on him. It's nobody's fault but Trump's that he spends the morning after the debate complaining about a Miss Universe contestant gaining too much weight. It's nobody's fault but Trump's that he ignored hitting Clinton over the Clinton Foundation so he could massage his own feelings over his prior business bankruptcies.
Trump is the candidate. It's time for those who defend him to own it.
If they don't, if they keep allowing Trump to get away with excusing all of his failures by blaming somebody else, then they'll be paving the way to his defeat. Losers whine about the playing conditions and the referees. Winners change their game plans. Those who whine for Trump won't be winning for him.