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Here are 11 times Donald Trump's campaign should have imploded

Donald Trump at the Republican presidential debate in August 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Donald Trump at the Republican presidential debate in August 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There have been so many times over the course of the 2016 election when Donald Trump's candidacy should have been dead in the water.

Trump has insulted a war hero, offended Latinos, and mocked a disabled reporter. He used "schlonged" to describe Hillary Clinton's defeat in the 2008 election and called for an illegal database to track Muslims.

"There's this media caricature of Trump as a bombastic buffoon," says Matthew Dickinson, a professor of political science at Middlebury College. "I think that belies his real record as somebody who has shown time and again his ability to put his finger on the pulse of the electorate."

It's time to look back at some of those moments in this improbable journey when everyone thought, incorrectly, that the Trump bubble would burst.

1) June 16, 2015: Trump says Mexico is sending America its "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc."

Trump spoke for an hour at his presidential kickoff from Trump Tower, and hit what would become many of the major themes of his candidacy: the death of the American dream, the foolishness of the Iraq War, his personal awesomeness.

He also said he would build a "great wall" along the Mexican border — and promised to have Mexico foot the bill. "I will have Mexico pay for that wall," Trump said, according to Fox News. "Mark my words."

Trump's campaign announcement, at Trump Tower. Christopher Gregory/Getty Images

(Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

More controversial was Trump's claim in a later statement that "the Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc."

The statement continued: "Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world."

Trump entered the race with about 12 percent support from Republican voters, according to CNN. That number was widely estimated to be way too high and likely to come crashing down quickly.

2) July 18, 2015: Trump insults John McCain's war record

In 1967, John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam, captured by enemy combatants, and tortured. McCain refused to be released when the North Vietnamese learned his father was a Navy admiral, and spent five years as a prisoner of war.

But after the 2008 Republican presidential nominee said Trump had "fired up the crazies" on immigration, Trump responded by going after McCain's war record.

"[McCain] is not a war hero," Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. "I like people that weren't captured, okay? I hate to tell you. He is a war hero because he was captured. Okay, you can have — I believe perhaps he is a war hero."

Here was the first sentence of Politico's story about the flap: "Donald Trump might finally have crossed the line."

3) July 27, 2015: Trump attorney: "You cannot rape your spouse"

Trump's ex-wife told her closest friends that the leading Republican presidential candidate raped her in 1989, according to a book by former Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III.

The Daily Beast relayed Hunt's reporting on the alleged "violent assault" by Donald Trump on Ivana Trump:

After a painful scalp reduction surgery to remove a bald spot, Donald Trump confronted his then-wife, who had previously used the same plastic surgeon. ...

Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants.

"Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months. Ivana is terrified… It is a violent assault," Hurt writes. "According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.

Ivana Trump called the story "totally without merit" after it resurfaced in July.

Michael Cohen, a lawyer at the Trump Organization, had a different response. He told the Daily Beast that Ivana Trump could not have been raped because, "by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse."

"It is true," Cohen said. "You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law." That statement provoked a new round of controversy because, as Vox's Dara Lind noted, it is in fact illegal to rape your spouse.

4) August 8, 2015: Trump says debate moderator Megyn Kelly had "blood coming out of her wherever"

At the first Republican debate, Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked Trump about calling women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals" in previous remarks he had made.

"Only Rosie O'Donnell," Trump responded, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump has feuded throughout the campaign with Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly, right. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

After the debate, Trump criticized Kelly for what he thought was an unfair line of questioning. "She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions," Trump said in an interview on CNN Friday night. "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her ... wherever."

Trump's "blood coming out of her wherever" remark in turn set off a new round of controversy, which included the right-leaning news outlet RedState disinviting Trump from a large gathering at which he was scheduled to be a key speaker.

Trump did not apologize for the comment, saying it had been misinterpreted. "Do you think I'd make a statement like that?" he told CNN. "Who would make a statement like that? Only a sick person would even think about that."

5) November 12, 2015: Trump says Hillary Clinton got "schlonged" in 2008 race

We could probably double the length of this list by including every seemingly out-of-bounds attack Trump has leveled against one his fellow presidential contenders.

But perhaps his most memorable line about another candidate came this fall, when he said that Hillary Clinton had gotten "schlonged" by Barack Obama in 2008.

"Even a race to Obama, she was gonna beat Obama. I don't know who would be worse, I don't know, how could it be worse? But she was going to beat — she was favored to win — and she got schlonged, she lost, I mean she lost," Trump said, according to CNN.

Clinton's campaign responded by dinging Trump for using "degrading language." Trump didn't apologize.

"Once again, #MSM is dishonest. 'Schlonged' is not vulgar. When I said Hillary got 'schlonged' that meant beaten badly," Trump said in a tweet.

Trump has had a series of other put-downs of presidential candidates, including the one against Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO: "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!"

He's also attacked Jeb Bush as "low-energy" and "dumb as a rock," and likened Ben Carson to a child molester.

(Ty Wright/Getty Images)

6) November 20, 2015: Trump calls for database of Muslim citizens after Paris attacks

Up until the fall, Trump's most controversial remarks had to do with Mexican immigration to the US. That began changing after terrorist attacks on November 13, 2015, killed 130 people in Paris.

On November 20, a week after the attacks, Trump said he would "absolutely" implement a database to register and track Muslims. "There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases, I mean, there should be a lot of systems," Trump said. "And today you can do it."

Trump downplayed this position — to a degree — by saying that the database had emerged in response to a reporter's question. The very next day, however, Trump stirred fresh controversy by calling for the surveillance of "certain mosques," according to the New York Times. Trump also said he wanted a database of refugees entering the country from Syria.

7) November 23, 2015: Trump says "thousands and thousands" celebrated 9/11 attacks

In November 2015, Donald Trump claimed that "thousands and thousands" of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down," Trump said. "I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well-covered at the time."

As Vox's Dylan Matthews noted at the time, there was no factual basis for the claim. But when challenged on live television by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Trump doubled down on the statement by citing evidence that simply didn't exist.

"It did happen. I saw it," Trump said. "It was on television. I saw it. George, it did happen."

8) November 26, 2015: Trump mocks disabled reporter who questioned Muslim comments

To defend his claim that the 9/11 attacks had been celebrated, Trump cited a Washington Post story from 2001. But then the author of that story, Serge Kovaleski, himself noted that his reporting didn't support that even hundreds of people had done so.

Trump responded in turn at a campaign rally in South Carolina by mocking Kovaleski, who is disabled.

Here's the Times's account of Trump's remarks:

"Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy," Mr. Trump said, before jerking his arms around and holding his right hand at an angle. " ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’ "

Mr. Kovaleski, who covered Mr. Trump extensively while he was a reporter at The Daily News, has arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints.

Trump later said he didn't know Kovaleski, and that any resemblance between the reporter and his impression was coincidental. Kovaleski, who covered Trump while at the New York Daily News, said that he was sure Trump remembered him.

9) December 7, 2015: After Paris attacks, Trump says US should reject Muslim immigrants

The first six months of Trump's candidacy drew plenty of condemnation within the United States. But few moments provoked such international outrage as his December 7, 2015, call for the US for an indiscriminate ban on all Muslim immigrants.

"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," a statement from Trump's campaign said after a massacre in San Bernardino, California, left 14 people dead and wounded 21 others.

The plan enjoyed widespread support among Republicans. But it was condemned by many GOP party officials, scores of Democratic Party officials, and those beyond the US.

A petition to ban Trump from the United Kingdom drew more than 300,000 signatures. "Donald Trump Is the World's Most Dangerous Man," wrote Der Spiegel, Germany's best-read newspaper. Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, has said Trump "would be a disaster for Israel and the Middle East."

Trump had launched his campaign as a garish, but fringe, figure. Just a few months later, his long-shot candidacy was already changing how the world thought of America.

10) Feb. 8, 2016: Trump echoes "pussy" cry from audience

During a rally in New Hampshire, Trump was criticizing Sen. Ted Cruz's reluctance to endorse torture when a woman in the crowd shouted that Cruz is "a pussy."

Trump stopped his monologue, and pointed to the woman.

"Shout it out," he said with a laugh. "You're not allowed to say (that), and I never expect to hear that from you again."

Trump then amplified the message so everyone in the crowd could hear. "She said, 'He's a pussy.' That's terrible," Trump said.

Of course, Trump has been feeding the worst impulses of his already fired-up crowds since the beginning of his candidacy.

Getting closer to winning the nomination has apparently done nothing to tame Trump's rhetoric. At another speech in Las Vegas on Feb. 23, for instance, Trump expressed a longing to assault a protester.

Here's Trump: "Here is a guy throwing punches, nasty as hell, screaming at everything else when we are talking, and we are not allowed — you know the guards are gentle with him, he's walking, like big high-fives smiling, laughing. I'd like to punch him in the face."

CNN later reported that the protester had not in fact fought with either the crowd or security guards.

11) Feb. 28, 2016: Trump fails to disavow former KKK leader

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Trump refused to disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Here's Trump responding to Tapper's question about Duke:

"I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay? ... I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. I don't know, did he endorse me? Or what's going on. Because I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists."

Trump later blamed his failure to disavow Duke on a faulty earpiece — an explanation that doesn't make any sense, because Trump clearly knew who Tapper was asking about.

Trump's rivals pounced on the mistake, with Marco Rubio arguing it should disqualify him from the presidency. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, called the response "disgusting."

"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people's prejudices," House Speaker Paul Ryan said, according to CNN.

CNN's Tapper later added that he thought Trump's remarks might help the billionaire win the nomination.