Many – myself included – have assumed Donald Trump doesn't really want to be president. It's far better pretending to run for president and exploiting the political celebrity afterwards. The job itself is difficult, thankless, and impossibly stressful. For a TV huckster like Trump, it makes more sense to appear serious about the presidency without actually taking on the responsibility. He could, at the very least, use the newfound dignity to help launch another season of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
But as we approach the home stretch of this campaign, it appears that Trump may actually want the job, even though he's comically unprepared for it. Perhaps it was a mistake to underestimate the link between self-delusion and megalomania: Trump might have convinced himself that political knowledge and a general understanding of how the world works isn't required to be president, not if you're a blessed flipper of beautiful buildings.
In any case, there are a growing number of signs that Trump is all-too-serious about finishing this race on top. First, there was his fuming Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he railed against a “rigged” nomination process. The piece was stuffed with shifty populist appeals, but it's also the kind of thing that raises his profile and complicates the RNC's anyone-but-Trump convention strategy. Then there were reports that Trump decided to reshuffle his campaign, hiring experienced Republican operatives like Paul Manafort and Rick Wiley to help “professionalize” his operation.
These are not the moves of someone pretending to run for president.
Now Politico is reporting that the internal shake-up at Trump's campaign headquarters has intensified. At a meeting over the weekend, Trump told staffers that he's reorganizing the campaign entirely, demoting his longtime manager Corey Lewandowski and handing over the reins to Manafort and Wikely, who will lead the campaign in upcoming primaries. Importantly, Trump is giving his new handlers a $20 million budget for the May and June contests, which far exceeds anything Trump has spent in previous months.
“The cash infusion – which the sources said is intended to fund an aggressive advertising push, as well as more staff at Trump's New York headquarters and in upcoming states – is part of an effort by the billionaire to expand and professionalize a shoestring operation that had mostly gotten by on the strength of free media exposure and a small core team.”
The decision to change the campaign hierarchy reflects a renewed urgency. Trump will likely dominate the New York primary tonight, but after that hugely consequential states like California and Pennsylvania await. It's increasingly clear that Trump needs to secure the magic 1,237 delegates required to clinch the nomination before the convention – otherwise he risks a wide open multi-ballot nomination battle, which heavily favors Ted Cruz.
That Trump is willing to upend his campaign and dump this kind of money into the last critical primaries suggests he doesn't want to leave the race in the hands of unelected delegates at the convention. He's been content thus far to shun retail politics and rely solely on “the power of the mass audience,” as he put it. But he may have reached the limits of that kind of campaign.
No one knows Trump's intentions at this point – perhaps not even Trump himself. It's possible that this began as an experiment in modern marketing but morphed into something else along the way, something bizarre but deadly serious. What's obvious now is that Trump, for whatever reason, is desperate to win.