When you’re running for president, one of the first things you do is hire a trusted assistant (usually a lawyer) to put together an “opposition research” book on yourself. The idea being that if you’re running for president, you will inevitably be attacked for things that you said and did. Knowing in advance what those attacks might be and how aggressively they will be pursued is a key component of campaign planning.
We assume that Donald Trump has hired someone to do this for him. We also assume that he has taken the eight or 10 most troublesome “lines of attack” and poll-tested them with caucus attenders and primary voters in the early GOP primary states. Those would be Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida.
We further assume that the eight or 10 most troublesome lines of attack (in Mr. Trump’s case) cause his support among likely caucus attenders in Iowa and likely primary voters in New Hampshire to plummet. It is likely that some pollster of national note has already written Mr. Trump a memo that says, basically, “you have no chance of winning the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.”
It doesn’t really matter if Mr. Trump has done this kind of “self-oppo” research or not. As the rising wave of conservative criticism begins to engulf his candidacy, Mr. Trump will soon realise that his campaign for the 2012 GOP nomination is a doomed enterprise. He doesn’t believe what GOP primary voters and caucus attenders believe. They’re not going to vote for him as a result.
So, having hyped his potential candidacy to the moon, how does Mr. Trump get out of running for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination?
The easy exit is to file for political divorce. Mr. Trump could say that he was willing to do everything he could to make his marriage with the modern GOP work, including spending “billions” of dollars to self-finance his campaign, but they were so crazy right-wing, they wouldn’t bend one inch. They wouldn’t have him! The inmates are running the asylum (the press will love that). Therefore, he has reluctantly decided to suspend his campaign for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination and consider other options.
Such an exit would enable Trump to continue to flirt with an “independent” presidential candidacy, thus giving him the publicity he craves, while he assessed his next move. Running for president as an independent candidate is a cash-intensive, labour intensive business. It takes an enormous amount of preparatory work, as Michael Bloomberg can attest from his “run” in 2007.
Once Trump realises the amount of work and money involved in going the independent route, he will likely withdraw from the national political scene altogether. And he will have had a great run, done little or no damage to his “brand” (such as it is), and gotten more publicity than he could have ever dreamed possible.
The one hitch in this reasoning is the “addiction” issue. Presidential candidates get addicted to the media attention that accompanies their campaigns. When it goes away, they feel empty and pointless. Trump is likely getting a huge rush from all the attention. We’ll see if he can live without it or live with it at a much diminished level.