Holy sh*t, Donald Trump might actually run for president: How he could go through with it this time -- with a big caveat

Trump has a "major" announcement coming in two weeks. We'll believe it when the papers are signed

Published June 1, 2015 4:21PM (EDT)

Donald Trump                                                (Reuters/Chris Keane)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Chris Keane)

We already hate ourselves for writing this, but alas: Is it happening? It may not be time to roll out the Ron Paul GIF quite yet. Nevertheless, Donald Trump has planned a "major" announcement from Trump Tower in New York City on June 16. The following day he plans to be in New Hampshire, where he's already spent a hefty amount of time the last few months speaking at events, hiring staffers, and wooing local party officials.

If this were any other prospective candidate, we'd treat these pre-announcement signals as definite indications of a run. Why else all the hullabaloo? Why go to New Hampshire the day after? Why go to New Hampshire at all, if not to build up support for a presidential candidacy? (Just kidding, New Hampshire is wonderful! -Ish!)

Trump's entry would force basically all political commentators, including yours truly, to eat some crow for adhering to the general -- and I believe principled! -- stance that he's not worth covering because he'd never actually go through with a run. But we have a couple more weeks, and for now I'm sticking to those principles: We should only believe that Trump is getting into the race when we've seen signed copies of all the necessary FEC documents. Trump himself would understand the importance of verification, since Trump so famously demanded the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate in 2011 when he was considering a run in the previous presidential cycle.

Remember that last flirtation? It gave Trump an impressive, if misleading, self-aggrandizing talking point to add to his vast arsenal. There was indeed a point in the April 2011 when Trump was leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, thanks to those twin propulsive forces of name-recognition and his indiscreetly nativist, just-asking-questions posture towards the first black president's land of birth. Once Obama did release his long-form birth certificate, though, Trump's poll numbers began collapsing. By mid-May 2011 -- the week before the season finale of "The Celebrity Apprentice," coincidentally -- Trump would announce his decision not to launch his candidacy.

Trump attributed his decision on his unwillingness to leave his business empire. He may also have seen the polls dipping, though, and got out while still relatively close to the top. Trump carefully manages his public image to exclude any hint of failure and project only 100% success at all times. He banks on ego and confidence, and a well publicized failure, such as losing a Republican presidential primary, would not suit him well.

This is why we still have a near-impossible time seeing him go through with a candidacy. He was not going to win the nomination in 2012, and his fundamentals ahead of 2016 are even uglier -- no doubt marred by lingering impressions from the last cycle that he was taking everyone for a ride.

As of now Trump is doing well enough to earn a place at the first GOP debate in early August. But his ceiling for support is incredibly low. His negatives are YUGE, as he would say. A fresh new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll of Iowa Republicans "asked GOP likely caucusgoers to consider all the contenders they didn't name as their first or second choice for president right now, and to say if they could 'ever' support the person or 'never' support the person." A hearty 58% of likely caucus-goers say that they could never support Donald Trump for president. The next worst figure is Chris Christie's 45%. In terms of favorable/unfavorables, Trump is viewed unfavorably by 63% of the field, while only 27% view him favorably.

A Quinnipiac national poll from late last week also showed Trump leading the Republican field... in terms of Republicans who would in "no way" support him. Worse yet, he fares horrifically in a head-to-head matchup against Hillary Clinton, earning only 32 percent to her 50. If one of Trump's rationales for running is that voters would prefer an outside-the-box candidate against Hillary Clinton... well, probably not, but even if they did, they wouldn't want that candidate to be Donald Trump.

Trump, like everyone else, would bank much of his strategy on winning New Hampshire. He's doing better there, but still only polling in only single digits. And while the figure isn't as eye-popping as it is in Iowa or nationally, Trump is one of the few prospective candidates whose New Hampshire favorability numbers are underwater.

Unless the American people dramatically change their negative impressions of this person who's been in the public eye for 30-some years, Trump will lose, and lose badly. And that's just not the sort of blow to pride that Trump would voluntarily walk into.

So let's wait until we see those FEC documents making it official. If he does jump in, it will be time to think about how he manages the inevitable exit strategy. Will he even make it to a vote? In the likely event that he can't pull himself into a competitive position in the early states by the end of the year, he can drop out, claim that he misses his business career where he's making A LOT OF MONEY, JUST YUGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY and prevent lost primaries from staining his record. Then he'll go around saying, however implausibly, that he could have won the presidency, but didn't feel like it. That'll do.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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