Over the past two months, this question has occurred to me several times. Other commentators have raised it, too, and I’m not speaking of the many joking suggestions that Trump is actively scheming to throw the election so he won’t have to stop playing golf.
For me, the nagging suspicion he might not want to be President began with his apparent disinterest in working on a campaign launch in the weeks after locking up the Republican nomination. Trump boasts endlessly about his skill as a builder. The planning and preparatory steps before a major building construction project can begin are time-critical. But in spite of his alleged savvy as a builder, Trump showed no evidence he was even thinking about the urgent tasks that were required to run a professional campaign.
- He put off the replacement of his Primary campaign manager, who was not qualified to run a full general election campaign
- When he finally did appoint a “Campaign Chairman”, he selected a lobbyist with no campaign management track record
- He neglected to build a professional, proven campaign team that could potentially rival the top-grade legion Clinton’s managers had already assembled in Brooklyn
- He repeatedly bashed polling professionals, saying he didn’t need them
- He trashed the Republican National Committee and the Republican leadership in Congress — an odd thing to do since he sorely needed their support and material help
- He failed to establish and foster a relationship with the RNC on the workaday staff level
- A self-styled media and TV giant, Trump twiddled his thumbs as, all through June and early July, the Clinton organization pounded him with devastating TV ads in the swing states
- He was content to make overblown promises about the fast-approaching Republican Convention, while doing little to ensure the show would be successful
- Most incredulous of all, Trump failed to field an effective fund-raising machine and failed to secure funding from traditional Republic wealthy donors — Trump’s constant crowing about being “self-funded” was turning out to be true, and, after an alleged $50 million investment, Mr. Self was backing away from being Mr. Funding.
As the convention approached, the Trump team, what there was of it, was in full disarray. The antagonistic relationship with the RNC was deteriorating. Trump had no policies, no powerful surrogates, no plan, no swing state ground strategy, no advertising, and, we soon saw, no top-name supporters for the convention. What the Trump team had was baseball caps, which he wore proudly to rallies, with little evidence of a serious brain in the head underneath.
As a manager with national project roll-out experience, my conclusion became firm: Donald Trump had become the Accidental Candidate, and was not sure what to do about it. In spite of his decades of bluster, I remain convinced Trump knows he is a terrible manager, not very bright, and incapable of learning. He dare not confess any of this, but the record of his actions, failures, lashing out like an adolescent, and dumb remarks shows it to be true.
By the end of June, he had found himself faced with a mountain of work and hundreds of decisions to make. Trump does not like to work, nor has he the patience with reading or learning enough to make a rational decision. Licensing his name is not “work”, and requires no more than a few accountants and lawyers to do the actual thinking. Donald can simply fly around in his jumbo jet and play golf in his own country clubs, all in the name of “promotion”.
Life as President would be a form of imprisonment, by contrast.
His wife was not happy with the crazy notion of trading their isolated, private, leisurely luxurious life for the 24/7, minute-by-minute regimented, fishbowl existence of a President and his First Lady. His children may have been opposed, too, but we’ll never know the truth since they’re totally intimidated by their authoritarian father. Not to mention they have the prospect of receiving a hundred million dollars or more each for going along with him.
He was being pulled, maybe dragged, along by his advisors and associates, each of whom had a great deal to gain on the remote chance he could win in November, and as much to lose if he dropped out. Would Trump want to run if the only potential beneficiaries were a bunch of sleaze merchants and political opportunists? I very much doubt it.
All these factors must have given Trump grounds to simply walk away from the nomination before the convention bestowed it in mid-July. But, in my view, all these arguments to quit while he still could paled before a much larger reason.
Along with all his other personal characteristics, like them or dismiss them, Trump is a fighter. He has gotten himself into positions since he was a young man where he had to dig himself or lie his way out from under. In many cases, these situations ended up (or began) on the front page of New York’s tabloid newspapers. He loves publicity, especially when he’s winning a fight, or thinks he is, or thinks he can persuade his fans and detractors alike that he is.
But he’s had enough scrapes in the public eye to know that running for President would be the biggest fight he’d ever face. No doubt, back in the early primaries days, he relished this new kind of battle. Mano-a-bunch of manos! Wow! Knocking them off like so many dumb animals, trophies for his photo wall, proofs of his manliness. It must have been highly energizing for this self-centered, egoistic TV “star”.
Then, after Clinton secured her nomination and turned the focus of her army and her dozens of bigly backers and surrogates on Trump, his view must have changed.
He must have finally understood that the fight with her was not going to be anything like his lightweight battles with the Stumbling Sixteen. He surely realized that every little screw-up or fraudulent or shoddy business deal, and his trail of bankruptcies was going to be brought to light by Clinton’s people or a ravenous media, hungry for signs of the mucky clay under Trump’s feet. He may have suddenly recalled all his bigoted, misogynistic, racist, sexist, mean-spirited remarks that were recorded or videotaped, and that would be dredged up and sprayed on him until even he had to hold his nose. Months of calling Hillary Clinton names were about to return to haunt him. Rally-fuls of absurd claims and lies were now going to be paraded by the national media, and in ads from Florida to Ohio. Years of casting doubts on our President’s citizenship were now going to be used as so many missiles of truth, making him nothing but a cheap White supremacist buffoon, and delivered by the very President he had tried for five years to humiliate.
Mocked mercilessly in his own words as he went down to possibly the greatest loss in American political history — that is what Trump faced as he looked down from his golden palace on the millions of people beneath supremely important Him. The vision of how all those millions he had dominated for so long now seeing his naked shallowness, greed, and utter fecklessness as a person, and worse, laughing at him where once they trembled in his presence: that vision is what, in your Truthteller’s judgment, gave him the most pause in the disorganized weeks before the Republican convention.
We will likely never learn how he mastered his anxieties and continued the quest. But we should not assume that his fears and frightening visions of the coming war were buried forever…