Why Trump Wimped Out

Per ABC News, Donald Trump has just put out a statement announcing he will not run for president. At this point, the news is hardly shocking. It's hard to recall anyone in the recent history of American politics who managed to humiliate himself as quickly and thoroughly as Trump did in his now-aborted semi-candidacy. From his debut as a pseudo-candidate at the Conservative Political Action Committee in February to his Hawaiian "birther investigators" to his becoming a stone-faced national laughingstock at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Trump demonstrated a level of jackassery heretofore unknown, even in national politics. 

Seriously, let's pause for a second and contemplate the amount of damage he's inflicted on himself: three short months ago, Donald Trump was our vulgar national mascot of money, a guy who seemed likable enough, kind of funny, amusing on television, and possibly even in on the joke himself (you could never quite tell). He had an easy, enduring celebrity, and a successful show on NBC. Flash forward to today: Trump's name is virtually synonymous with discredited, far-right race-baiting; his political foray underscored the fact that he'd flip-flopped on most issues, which made his hateful blather even more ridiculous; and his once-successful franchise, "Celebrity Apprentice," saw its ratings collapse as its liberal audience abandoned it in droves. And now that show is under threat from ABC. It's pretty remarkable that a "presidential campaign" that probably started as a ratings-boosting gimmick didn't even make it to the season finale of "Celebrity Apprentice," when we were all supposed to tune in for the big announcement.

Who knows why Trump did what he did? But I have a theory about why he's bailing out early. And it has nothing to do with preserving his last shred of dignity, because that's long gone and Trump never seemed overly concerned with holding onto it anyway. Like any politician who's screwed up, Trump is now playing defense, trying to hold onto what he has. In the realm of celebrity, which is what he seems to care about most, that's primarily "Celebrity Apprentice." When the news broke yesterday that NBC was re-upping with Trump for another run of "Apprentice," it was pretty clear that he was going to abandon his political ambitions--if he ever really had any to begin with. Given that the last three months were so detrimental to his ratings, I wouldn't be surprised if his NBC deal included a clause that he fold up his tent and shut down the circus. That's just good business sense -- and in Trump's case, it doubles as an act of mercy.

Update: Greg Sargent gives a more charitable analysis of the Donald's political effect.

Drop-down image credit: AP

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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