US Election 2016

How big winners like Donald Trump bounce back from a loss

Donald and Melania Trump after the Iowa caucus Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Donald Trump gave an uncharacteristically understated speech Monday evening

Donald Trump told everyone he was a winner - just like some sports stars do before a big match. So how do braggadocio winners deal with losing?

Not long after early results from the Iowa caucuses started coming in late Tuesday night, the internet lit up with the news that Donald Trump - who has spoken constantly throughout the campaign about his ability to "win" - was projected to lose.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz surpassed Trump by about 4% of the caucus vote.

Few Trump detractors missed the opportunity to label Trump a "loser". "Dead Clown Walking", crowed the front page of the New York Daily News. The anonymous internet troll who controls the URL www.loser.com made it direct traffic to Trump's Wikipedia entry. Hundreds began re-sharing a two-year-old tweet by Trump that read, "No one remembers who came in second".

The glee is comparable to times when braggart athletes have fallen hard, says Dr Jim Afremow, a sports psychology expert.

"Outrageousness pays off big time in sports and politics," he says. "When that bubble is burst, everyone comes out of the woodwork and starts tearing you down."

So how do top sports stars deal with their most humiliating defeats?

The most obvious recent example is mixed martial arts star Ronda Rousey, who openly insulted her underdog opponent Holly Holm ahead of their championship match-up.

"That fake sweet act, I see right through it," Rousey told Holm after a near-scuffle at their weigh-in. "I'm going to show you on Sunday why I'm the champ."

But Holm humiliated Rousey out with a knock-out kick to the head, and it seemed the whole of the sports world wanted to toast Rousey's downfall - including Mr Trump:

Image copyright Twitter

But neither Rousey nor Trump should look at a 'yooge' defeat as the end of the story, says Afremow.

"Ronda Rousey has the opportunity to make one of the greatest sports comebacks in history," he counsels. "It's not that champions don't fail, they don't dwell on their failures."

Trump has already demonstrated that kind of "short term memory for failure" that works so well for athletes - he is unwilling to acknowledge past negative aspects of his business or personal life.

History also sometimes ends up on the side of blusterers - just take Muhammad Ali, who talked a ton of smack before and after his most embarrassing losses, like his first defeat by Joe Frazier in 1971.

"Frazier is too ugly to be champ," Ali said ahead of the fateful fight. "Frazier is too dumb to be champ."

When the two boxers were set for a rematch in 1974, Ali hadn't curtailed his pre-fight antics a bit, vowing victory and calling Frazier "ignorant" in a television studio appearance that ended in a brawl. (Ali won the actual fight.)

"[Ali] continued to talk because he had game. He had substance. Americans fell in love with the guy," says Ken Baum, another sports psychologist. "Just because you talk and lose doesn't mean you're devastated."

Baum says with a little bit of adjustment, Trump could still go on to win this heavyweight title of politics and the Republican nomination.

In his concession speech in Iowa, Trump did seem to be setting the table for his underdog comeback story. "I was told by everybody, 'Do not go to Iowa, you could never finish even in the top 10,'" he said. "And we finished second."

He went even further the next morning, tweeting, "The media has not covered my long-shot great finish in Iowa fairly. Brought in record voters and got second highest vote total in history!"

So, will voters take more of a shine to "Trump the underdog" than they did to "Trump the winner"? Time will tell. Round 2 - also known as the New Hampshire primary - gets underway in just a week.