Some critics say winning the presidency and actually being president are two separate concepts to Donald Trump, the latter of which he doesn’t really want.
When New York Times reporters presented with the presumptive GOP presidential candidate with the hypothetical scenario of winning the presidency, only “to forgo the office as the ultimate walk-off winner,” Mr. Trump responded with a smile: “I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens," he told the Times.
For Trump to win the presidency would be an unprecedented, unexpected political experiment to say the least. But if Trump were to win the presidency and then turn it down, political scientists would probably throw in the towel on their profession all together.
However, some journalists, academics, and former aides say it is a scenario worth discussing.
“It is, of course, entirely possible that Mr. Trump is playing coy to earn more news coverage,” writes the Times’ Jason Horowitz. “But the notion of the intensely competitive Mr. Trump’s being more interested in winning the presidency than serving as president is not exactly a foreign concept to close observers of this presidential race.”
In March, Stephanie Cegielski, once the communications director of the Trump-supporting Make America Great Again Super PAC, penned an open letter to Trump supporters (among whom she no longer counts herself). In the letter, Ms. Cegielski says Trump’s campaign initially had the best-case-scenario goal of second place.
“The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy,” she writes. “I don’t think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don’t even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all.”
As Ralf Michaels, a professor at the Duke University School of Law, wrote for the Huffington Post in February, Trump’s love of winning is disassociated from his eagerness to be Commander in Chief. And his intense love for winning, and for himself, has blinded him to the actual possibilities ahead:
“Will either Trump, or voters, realize this before it is too late? Trump himself may not. For some time, he seemed to give signs of wanting to quit. When he said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose voters, it was perhaps not a sign of his confidence, or his disdain for his base, but a cry for help. But if that was so, it did not last long. Trump cares so much about winning, he may well pay the price of actually having to be president. When he gets tired of it will be too late.”
But Russell Verney, a former strategist for the Texas billionaire and former third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot, tells the Times that the only reason these speculations are being fueled is because Trump is an outsider candidate, and has a career to return to if he chooses. Roger Stone, a political advisor for Trump, concurs.
“If he got elected president, he’d certainly serve,” Mr. Stone told the Times. “I’m fairly certain about that. You think he’d resign? I don’t see that happening.”
But others insist that Trump wants to win the presidency without having to actually be president.
“I’ll say it again: Trump never intended to be the candidate. But his pride is too out of control to stop him now,” Cegielski adds in her letter. “He doesn’t want the White House. He just wants to be able to say that he could have run the White House.”