Photo: Michele Sandberg via Flickr
Donald Trump has a habit of offering himself up as a saviour . Way back in 1989, shortly after he had published his best-selling business manual, “The Art of The Deal,” he offered himself up as the man who could negotiate a breakthrough nuclear arms treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker didn’t take him up on the offer, for obvious reasons, and nothing ever came of it. Since then, he has offered himself up as a possible mayoral candidate, US Senate candidate, gubernatorial candidate, presidential candidate, saviour of the New York Mets, saviour of Ed McMahon, saviour of many things and people in distress or need. And, with the exception of Mr. McMahon, none of those offers have ever come to anything either.
He is now offering himself up to save the United States of America, by devoting his time and energies to running for president. If we assume that this offer is serious (and we don’t, really, but let’s go with it anyway), then this is what we see in the rear view mirror and this is what we’ll see going forward.
To run for president, and have a realistic chance of winning, you have to have the support of one of the two major political parties. As there was (and is) exactly zero chance that Mr. Trump could wrest the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination from President Obama’s grasp, a quick and easy decision was immediately made: Mr. Trump would not be running for president as a Democrat.
Ergo, he would run for president as a Republican. If you’re running for president as a Republican, you have to have at least some support from the party’s culturally conservative base. To test the waters, Mr. Trump arranged to speak at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual meeting two months ago in Washington, DC. He was, surprisingly, pretty well-received. But the needle didn’t move. The base didn’t budge.
When Mr. Trump looked at polling data about these basers he would need to budge, he realised that he had nothing in common with them. He didn’t share their views on cultural issues. He didn’t share their religious views. He was libertarian on cultural issues, truth be told, and they, decidedly, were not. The more information you fed them about Mr. Trump (casino ownership, trophy wives, liberal views on social issues, etc), the more hostile they became.
What Mr. Trump needed, if he was going to have any chance to connect with the culturally conservative base of the GOP, was an issue. He fastened upon the birther issue, which hit the jackpot. Trump’s poll numbers shot up. He was suddenly running second to Mitt Romney in the pivotal New Hampshire primary. Maybe there was a way to get the base’s support without having to support the base’s agenda.
Alas, cooler heads in the Trump operation knew better. The sugar shock of the “birther issue” would run its course and the fundamental conflict would remain. Trump would never command the support of the GOP’s activist base precisely because he did not share their worldview. Which meant that he would never be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012 (or ever).
He would have to change course.
So he did. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mr. Trump said that he would “probably” run for president as an independent if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination. Roughly translated, this meant the following: “my people tell me I have no chance of winning the GOP nomination, which I guess is true, although you never know, but assuming it is true, then the only way I can keep this bandwagon rolling is by saying that I am considering an independent candidacy, which will keep me in the news and might actually improve my poll position in three-way match-ups (with me as the third candidate), which gives me leverage. Both sides will have to deal with me, which is a good position to be in.”
Meanwhile, all over New York and Washington, DC, there are dozens of political consultants who are frozen out of the Obama operation and who don’t have the stomach for the GOP presidential race. What they’re looking for is a very rich third-party candidate who can be their entire meal ticket for this election cycle. They’re bombarding Mr. Trump with analyses and proposals that all lead to one conclusion: you can win a three-way race!
What’s the catch? The catch is that Mr. Trump will have to raise and spend $500 million to get the job done. The consultants figure if they can grab just 3% of that amount, they’re looking at a $15 million payday. So they are very enthusiastic about Trump’s prospects, as you might imagine.
One thing Mr. Trump knows better than most is a con. He knows that all these analyses and proposals and strategy papers aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. They’re consulting cash grabs, pure and simple. But he reads them, all of them, looking for the one that might actually crack the code of how one man might win the presidency as an independent.
He hasn’t found that one yet. He won’t find it. In his case, it doesn’t exist.
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