It’s happening. I think.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2015
Go figure that Trump would pass on running against weaker GOP fields in 2008 and 2012 to challenge a much stronger one this year. (Imagine a Trump/Romney battle o’ the businessmen three years ago, with Trump taking nasty potshots daily at how much less wealthy Mr. Nice Guy is.) Two possible explanations for that. One: Consultants have convinced him that voters are split so many ways among so many candidates this time that he could shock the world by winning an early state with, say, 15 percent of the vote based on name recognition alone. That’s unlikely — his unfavorable rating among Republicans stands at 57 percent, easily the worst for any presidential candidate from either party in 35 years — but futility won’t stop consultants from telling a guy with nine billion dollars what he wants to hear.
The other explanation: There’s a catch. There’s got to be. There’s no way Trump will subject himself to the humiliation of finishing 20 points behind Bush, Rubio, or Walker in the early states. One way or another, it’ll never reach that point. Jamie Weinstein of the Daily Caller thinks today’s event is actually a fake-out and that Trump’s planning to announce the formation of a Super PAC, not his candidacy. That way he can throw money around in the primary and play kingmaker without subjecting himself to rejection by the voters. Another possibility is that he jumps in, hangs around in the race for awhile so that he can participate in the debates, and then finds some pretext to drop out before Iowa if his polling continues to disappoint. He won’t subject himself to the caucuses and to a vote in New Hampshire unless, against all odds, he looks poised to win. What will the escape hatch be?
One interesting thing about having him in the race would be seeing how the media will respond to him. The press grumbles all the time that he’s a publicity whore and that they don’t want to reward him for it, but covering Trump means not having to cover more credible candidates like Rubio who pose a legit threat to Her Majesty. My guess is they’ll give him plenty of oxygen. Another interesting question if he gets in is who he’ll spend most of his time attacking. The smart play would be to go after Jeb, as it would endear him to righties and make him more of a factor in the race if Jeb took the bait. And he has knocked Jeb — but his strongest criticism so far has been reserved for Carly Fiorina, who’s currently at one or two percent in most polls, for getting canned at Hewlett-Packard. Having Trump in the race could be a gift to her if she’s prepared to counterattack. it’s tricky since she doesn’t want to be viewed as a joke candidate by association, but since most of the rest of the field will probably ignore Trump, standing up to him could get voters’ attention. Plus, Trump can get away with getting nasty with the rest of the field, as that would fit his niche as the populist outsider who’s tired of all these establishment phonies, but getting nasty with the one woman candidate running won’t come off as well. I wonder if he can resist.
Anyway. It’s more than 90 percent likely, I’d guess, that no Republican voters will ever get a chance to cast a ballot for him so let’s not overthink this. For a counterargument, though, that Trump should be taken seriously as a protest candidate, read Byron York from last month. “Donald Trump is the third party candidate running for the Republican nomination,” York wrote at the time. Right. Which raises the question: Why doesn’t he run as a real third-party candidate? He’s got the dough to pay for it and running as an independent could get him a slot against Hillary and the GOP nominee at the presidential debates next October, a much bigger and more elite stage than the 15-candidate scrum that the Republican primary debates will see.
Update: Yep, it’s happening. He’s in. For the next six months or so, anyway.
Interestingly, he went way off-script from the prepared remarks that were e-mailed to reporters earlier. I wonder what that’s about.
Update: Easy prediction: After spending the next six months reassuring righties that he’s a true-blue Republican and loyal party man, Trump will spend the general-election campaign next year dumping on the eventual nominee as a can’t-win loser.
Update: Respect for the DNC’s troll game:
Our statement on Trump: pic.twitter.com/8I8ilMzwUh
— Holly Shulman (@HollyShulman) June 16, 2015