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Does Trump really want to win? Hard to tell

I used to chuckle when Donald Trump called himself a “unifier.” So far, the Republican front-runner has been about as unifying as a fox in a henhouse.

Yet unity appeared in unexpected ways after his comments on abortion rights in a town meeting with host Chris Matthews on MSNBC. The Donald’s views, which he appeared to be sorting out even as we watched, amazingly brought pro-choice and anti-abortion leaders together on common ground — against him!

Hemming and hawing like a student who had forgotten to study his homework, Trump tried and failed to change the subject before he finally seemed to decide what he believes.

That required a big leap for him. He supported abortion rights through all nine months of pregnancy in the 1990s. Now as frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump has evolved. Now, he said, he believes that women who have an abortion should be subject to “some kind of punishment.”

Trump’s allies in that cause were no happier with that answer than his adversaries were. The anti-abortion side has long insisted that service providers, not women seeking an abortion, should be prosecuted — even though simple logic tells me that if abortion is “murder,” as the anti-abortion movement insists, the woman who has one would be at least an accomplice.

So, as pro-choice politicians and other activists said in effect “We told you so,” anti-abortion leaders tried to clean up the damage. Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, for example, called Trump’s remarks “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”

How bad was the damage? So bad that Trump, who normally refuses to apologize or give even a nod to political correctness, completely recanted his abortion statement and issued a new one.

“The woman is a victim in this case, as is the life in her womb,” said the statement, which sounded downright non-Trumpian in its grace and civility.

Watching Trump, I am moved to ask, does this guy really want to win this campaign? He’s still campaigning as though he were on a comedy tour and, by the way, learning the job as he campaigns for it.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Thursday found that, instead of expanding the GOP’s big tent, Trump has shrunk it.

If he wins his party’s nomination, the Post reported, he would start the general election campaign as “the least-popular candidate to represent either party in modern times.”

“Three quarters of women view him unfavorably,” the newspaper reported. “So do nearly two-thirds of independents, 80 percent of young adults, 85 percent of Hispanics and nearly half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.”

Even Trump’s widely reported leads among white men, white evangelical Protestants and whites with a high school diploma or less has shrunk, the poll found. Slightly more than half of all three expressed unfavorable impressions of him.

Of course, polling numbers can change a lot before November, as can the frontrunners. But, for now, there’s no question that Trump has drastically shrunk what GOP leaders hoped would be a big tent of racial, ethnic and gender diversity — after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.

I’m not going to count him out, but if he really wants to win, he still has a lot of homework to do.