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Story highlights

Stuart Stevens doesn't think Donald Trump, will even be in the race when the first votes are cast

"I don't think he's going to be on the ballot by February 1," Stevens said

(CNN) —  

The top strategist to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney doesn’t think 2016 front-runner Donald Trump will even be in the race when the first votes are cast.

Stuart Stevens, an unaligned strategist who spearheaded Romney’s successful bid for the GOP nomination, said Monday that Trump is likely scared of losing.

“I don’t think he’s going to be on the ballot by February 1,” Stevens told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “The greatest sin in his value system is to be a loser, and most people who run for president lose. I don’t think he’ll risk it.”

Trump enjoys a solid, but shrinking, lead nationally and in early voting states. But he said last week, “If I fell behind badly, I would certainly get out.”

On Monday evening, Trump tweeted, “Political strategist Stuart Stevens, who led Romney down the tubes in what should have been an easy victory, has terrible political instincts!”