Donald Trump isn’t going to run for president. He doesn’t have the guts to do it.
I’d like to say that I was ahead of the curve in realizing this, but for the past few months I’ve been swept up in the same “Trump is running for president (totally for reals, you guys)” narrative that has consumed the rest of the media. Instead it was my friend Sean M. Davis, a PhD student in music who teaches at Temple University, who drew my attention to the indisputable facts that:
- For several months in 2011, Trump made a big deal about his plans on running for president;
- In order to garner attention for his “campaign,” he focused on an issue that played on the racist impulses of a large segment of the Republican Party’s right-wing base (more on that in a moment), and;
- By the time Trump would have been forced to prove that he could walk the walk as well as talk the talk – that is to say, by the time every serious GOP candidate was required to win actual votes in actual primary and caucus elections, instead of simply making a spectacle of him/herself – The Donald had already bowed out of the 2012 presidential race.
It’s not hard to see why a man like Trump would want to run a phony presidential campaign. Men and women who are widely discussed as possible presidential candidates tend to make a lot of money in speaking fees, book and TV deals, and other cash-ins made possible by the name recognition they acquired during their time in the political limelight. As a man who has always expanded his business empire by promoting “Donald Trump” as a brand, it makes sense that he would gravitate toward an endeavor which allows him to reinvent his image (Trump the entrepreneur becomes Trump the pundit) while simultaneously gratifying his sense of self-importance.
Because he is already a celebrity, Trump knows that he simply needs to make controversial statements that attract media attention in order to stay in the headlines. Similarly, because race remains a hot button topic in America, Trump understands that a surefire way to be “newsworthy” is to play on his party’s latent racist sentiments while presenting himself as a champion of anti-PC straight talk. In 2012, he did this by promoting the conspiracy theory that President Obama hadn’t been born in this country and was thus ineligible to be president, a tactic that studies have proved specifically appeals to those who believe that non-whites are somehow “less American” but don’t want to seem explicitly racist. This time around, Trump has chosen to exploit anti-Mexican xenophobia, drawing attention to himself by claiming that a significant percentage of illegal immigrants are rapists, drug dealers, and in general violent criminals.
All of this is well and good for him… IF he is never held accountable in a real election. In fact, having voters decide his fate is a no-win proposition for him: If he is defeated in the Republican primaries, the “loser” label will taint his brand for the rest of his days; if he wins the Republican nomination but loses in the general election, he will be vilified as the man whose megalomania cost his own party its chance at reclaiming the White House; and if, by some unlikely twist of fate, he actually was elected president, he would quickly find himself mired in the same partisan gridlock that has hamstrung our last few presidents… but with the added stigma of having risen to the White House by deliberately alienating non-white Americans and exacerbating racial divisions.
This isn’t to say that Trump doesn’t want to be president on some level. The point here is that, despite his bluster to the contrary, he isn’t acting like a man who wants to win a presidential election, but rather like one who wants to make a quick buck off the process by which America elects its presidents. If he was merely doing so by spouting bland partisan talking points and empty platitudes, the only victim would be the dignity of our democratic form of government. Because he is doing so by inflaming racial hatreds, however, he isn’t simply demeaning our political culture; whether he likes it or not, he is placing his very honor on the line.
If Trump really believes the very serious things he is currently saying – if he honestly thinks that our current presidential administration is illegitimate and that illegal immigrants are by and large dangerous criminals – then he has a moral responsibility to see this race through to the end, even if that means risking being humiliated in the eyes of the world should the voters reject him. Of course, because they almost certainly will spurn his overtures, the odds are better than not that he will find some excuse to duck out of this race before a single ballot is cast. Such a move might save his reputation (Americans have notoriously short memories when it comes to politics), but it will also reveal that his racial demagoguery – which would be bad enough if it was sincere – was in fact nothing more than craven profiteering. Trump, a man who is practically the living embodiment of gender, racial, and economic privilege, will have for all intents and purposes made a nice little pile of money by politically exploiting those who are less privileged than himself.
In short, Trump has a choice between an honorable humiliation in the name of truly terrible ideas or a premature exit from the political stage that will leave him devoid of honor but able to rake in a few more dollars off this new extension of his personal brand.
Neither option is appealing to decent people, but one at least requires some genuine conviction… a quality that, in turn, gives people the courage to see important causes through to the finish. By contrast, based on his history, there isn’t any reason to believe that Trump will have the stones to follow through with his “campaign.”