Tracking Trump's Trajectory, in GIFs

Carlo Allegri / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Tuesday night, after Donald Trump’s win in Indiana and Ted Cruz’s decision to leave the race, I opened up our 2016 Presidential Cheat Sheet to update it, as I’ve been doing regularly since January 2015, when it debuted. Under each category, one question is: “Can he/she win the nomination?” With Trump now the presumptive nominee, I realized I needed to edit that section.

Since I added Trump to the Cheat Sheet, I’ve been dropping animated GIFs into that slot. I got this request from a reader:

That seems like a good way to capture the trajectory of Trump’s campaign, from laughable non-entity to triumphant nominee.

When we added Trump to the Cheat Sheet, I—like most political journalists—thought Trump wouldn’t really compete. He was just flirting with a campaign, as he’d done repeatedly in the past. The first question slot on the cheat sheet read, “Is he running?” and rather than fill out that or anything else, I just posted this:

By July, I’d started adding more information to Trump’s entry, but I wasn’t happy about it, and still skeptical:

Is he running? Like, for real? Of course not. He declared on June 16 and, incredibly, he has filed with the FEC, but the question to watch is what happens when he has to file financial disclosures.

I added that I was “deeply ashamed and upset that I had to fill out this entry.”

In August, I kept the GIF but expressed some misgivings: “When does this GIF stop seeming funny and accurate, and start seeming incorrect? Not today! He’s still not gonna win,” I wrote, which I guess may have been true at the time.

By September, it was time for an update, courtesy of Kanye. Could Trump win?

Resignation was beginning to set in by December:

Trump was starting to look inevitable.

But then came his collapse in the Iowa caucuses, where his polling dropped at the last minute and Cruz came out on top. A competitive race again!

Then Trump got back on track in New Hampshire. Perhaps he really could win.

Yet despite Trump’s success, it began to seem like he might not be able to make it quite to the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. The situation called for something that would express a range of emotions and possibilities … something like … this:

In the end, of course, Trump cleared the field, and he’s headed to the Republican National Convention—in Cleveland, if you hadn’t heard.