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The GOP civil war is finally here. And Trump is winning

Presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado.
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Presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado.

With the release of the 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape and Donald Trump's subsequent drop in the polls, many already reluctant Republicans are now running for cover from him and his campaign.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain are the most prominent among them, and Trump has responded by calling them out individually on his Twitter feed. The GOP civil war so close to erupting so many times during the course of the Trump campaign is finally here. All because of a new drop in the polls that may or may not last very long.

There may be no winners in the end of this intramural battle, but the only one who can win is Trump. And that's why Trump should not just continue to play up this growing rift with the establishment, he should play it up as much as possible.

Think about it: If Trump loses the election, Republican leaders hoping to avoid the worst effects of being associated with his controversial persona won't be spared much. The Trump supporters will never forgive them and the news media and the Left will never given them any credit for "doing the right thing" anyway. It's a form of Stockholm syndrome to not only start to like your captors, but look for reasons to blame the captivity on your fellow hostages. This is a no-win scenario if there ever was one for the GOP establishment powers.

Democracy can be ugly. And what Republicans like McCain and Ryan have had so much trouble accepting is that the voters in the primaries flocked to Trump. It doesn't matter if Trump deserved it or not. It doesn't matter if he had the best chances to win the general election. If a political party works to undermine what its voters want, it is dead. Trump's campaign is thus still alive while we watch the GOP commit a form of suicide as it fears national polls and the news media more than its own voters. This is what losers do — when the going gets tough and chips are down, they turn on each other.

Even if Trump is a long shot to win the election, (and he probably won't be for long; look for the polls to steady themselves in another week or so), he can now present himself as the true man of the people no Republican presidential candidate has been able to be or even look like since Ronald Reagan. But the GOP leaders don't get that after the rough years of the Iraq war and the 2008 Great Recession their party's brand died in the eyes of the national electorate. Sure, they can win congressional elections. But the task of creating a national candidate who can win the White House is something this Republican Party cannot do. That's why Trump won the primaries. But the Paul Ryans and John McCains of this world don't get it. Because that's what losers do; sometimes they don't even know that they've lost.

To be clear, "winning" in this context doesn't necessarily mean "better." This is about national political viability, and decidedly not about better governing or morality. Neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton has the "advantage" on that score. But when it comes to winning an election, the only person who needs to look self-assured and like a winner is the candidate. Trump still looks like he wants to fight and fight hard. The Republicans in Congress look like they want to run and hide. Because that's what losers do.


Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.