Donald Trump is not going to be the president.
Trump isn’t going to let himself lose in any official capacity, of course—that would go against everything the Trump brand stands for. So when his numbers start dropping, as they inevitably will and already have, Donald Trump is going to save face the best way he knows how: Quitting before it’s too late.
Remember, Trump had a blast during the primaries. Back then, he was free to spew any sort of nonsense he wanted. And not only did no one question him too seriously, but as his discourse became increasingly unhinged and racist, his poll numbers rose in kind. The more his poll numbers shot up, the more media attention he got. And for Trump, there is no purer joy. If Donald Trump is able to buy his way into heaven, it’s just going to be him reliving the 2016 primaries every day for the rest of eternity.
Now, though, the Democrats are just about done squabbling, Republicans are out of distractions, and the cold, sobering reality of what our nation has wrought is finally settling in. Now that the fun is winding down, the small-handed prince of our country’s most base anxieties is going to start looking for a way out. He’s already laying the groundwork, saying on Fox & Friends that “it would be nice to have full support from people that are in office, full verbal support. With all of that being said, I may go a different route if things don’t happen.”
But what exactly is that different route going to look like? As I see it, Trump still has about four opportunities left to get out before it’s too late.
Before the convention
This is, perhaps, the easiest way out for Trump, especially since he’s already had some practice. Granted, during his most serious bid thus far in 2012, Trump was only ever half-running at best—and even then just for a few months. Still, it bore all the hallmarks of a classic (if unofficial) Trump campaign, complete with poll bravado and boasts of being a shoo-in.
Regarding his decision to pull out, Trump said (bolding ours):
...I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half-heartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.
Of course, back then Trump just didn’t want to abandon Celebrity Apprentice, as The New York Times wrote just after Trump dropped out, “[NBC] needed him to make a decision by Monday, when it was announcing its fall television schedule to major advertisers in its annual presentation in New York. Celebrity Apprentice is one of its most important programs, and the network would not be able to line up sponsorship commitments as easily with Mr. Trump as a ‘maybe.’”
Now, though, NBC is out of the picture. NBC cut ties with Trump about a year ago over his then-still-shocking racist tirades. Meaning that, this time, Trump would have to lean on his various hotels and business ventures if he wanted to pull another businessman-at-heart stunt. It’s a considerably less glamorous move than a reality show, sure, but still a solid enough out for Trump to at least claim he’s saving face.
What’s more, if Trump gets out before the actual convention, he never actually runs the risk of party Republicans pulling the candidacy out from under him come Cleveland. So he gets to rail on about the fact that not only would he have done it better, he could have done it better, too—if he’d decided to accept the nomination, that is.
He just didn’t want to.
At the convention
This is when it starts to get fun.
Trump can’t make it all the way to the convention just to fizzle out with some lame announcement about wanting to focus on the business side of things. What’s more, if he gets all the way to the convention only to quietly bow out, he is going to be instantly upstaged by whoever the Republican party decides to put in his place. This is Donald Trump’s nightmare.
Remember, absolutely everything Donald Trump does is about A) creating an appearance of having won and B) getting as much positive attention as humanly possible. To succeed in this scenario, Trump needs something huge to take everybody’s mind off the fact that he’s backing out of the presidency. Trump needs to announce Trump TV.
Or the Trump News Network or Trump Broadcasting or Der Stürmer or whatever he decides to call it. This way, Trump gets to turn the Republican National Convention, where virtually every media outlet in the nation has gathered, into a press conference for the launch of his very own television network.
As Vanity Fair pointed out, his whole campaign has basically been building to this point. His constant bashing of the media certainly must mean he thinks he can do it better. And to his credit, Trump does have a knack for commanding a national audience. Why bother being President, a job he neither wants nor is qualified for, when he can do the only part he actually enjoys (screaming things on television) for the rest of his life? And if he announces at the convention, he gets to allude to the fact that maybe this was really his plan the whole time. Everybody wins.
After the convention
Things get dicey once the convention is over. Trump’s accepted the nomination. He’s having a good old time. Except his poll numbers keep dropping. The game’s getting less fun. And then to make matters worse, people keep trying to talk to him about policies, transition plans, and why his campaign is bleeding money. You know, things that have absolutely nothing to do with Trump, as far as Trump is concerned. Still, it’s really starting to kill his buzz. And what if he actually lost?
That’s when it hits him—he’ll quit! At this point, he’s already humiliated the Republicans, so he doesn’t need to worry about one-upping them with his exit. Hillary Clinton, however, is still very much an issue. There’s no way his brand can survive Trump giving in to a woman. Which means that for this to work, he’s going to need to hit her where (he assumes) it hurts: He’s going to need to paint himself as the victim of Crooked Hillary’s cold, heartless power-hungry campaigning.
Pinning his decision on his family would be the most viable option here. People generally get that. It allows him to say, “Crooked Hillary’s dirty campaign keeps attacking my children.” Or, “Melania can’t handle this.” Or “my 10-year-old son, Barron, who I may or may not keep locked up in a basement because no one ever sees him, can’t handle this.” Just as long he ends with, “Donald Trump will always put family first.” It’s a sympathetic line and something people might actually relate to.
Plus we all know how much Donald Trump loves his kids—or at least, how much he loves his daughter Ivanka (too much, some might say). Because in the end, who could blame Donald Trump, the Nice and Good Family Man, for making the noble choice in a crooked world? Certainly not Donald Trump.
After Donald Trump wins the election
This is both the least likely scenario, (because Donald Trump will not win the election) and the ultimate power move. He doesn’t even really need to have an excuse for bowing out at this point—he already won!
Donald Trump could even go so far as to say he just plain doesn’t want it at this point. Because no matter what happens, he will always be able to brag about the fact that not only could he have done it better, but the American people knew it, too. And now, he’ll never actually have a chance to fuck up and prove his naysayers right.
After all, what does he care if he doesn’t actually fulfill all of his terrible promises? Because remember—Donald Trump doesn’t actually want to be the President. Donald Trump just wants to know that everyone loves Donald Trump.