Just about every Republican official and consultant has at some point wrestled with the question of whether or not Donald Trump really wants to be President of the United States. Many think that he wants to win the election, but doesn’t want the job that comes with it. Others think he began the campaign as a publicity stunt and was shocked to find himself as the frontrunner and then the nominee.
The question of Trump’s interest in the White House is being asked more and more frequently — and by more people—following Trump’s disastrous comments about the parents of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq. Why on earth would any candidate pick such a public fight with a family whose son made the ultimate sacrifice? Adding to the confusion, why on earth would he pick a new fight with Paul Ryan and John McCain when he’s supposedly trying to unify the party? Is the Republican nominee sabotaging his own campaign?
I believe that this analysis misses the point.
When Trump began his campaign, he was dismissed as unserious because he didn’t do all the things that presidential campaigns are “supposed” to do. He didn’t hire an army of consultants and pollsters; he didn’t spend much money on TV advertising; and, he didn’t carefully choose his words to please one constituency without offending another.
But despite doing everything that the political handbook said not to do, Trump won. He changed the rules of the game, which nobody expected. And, by the way, he raised legitimate questions about why the consultants and pollsters were getting paid all that money by other candidates.
In the general election, Trump is once again refusing to play by the regular rules of the game. When something happens, he speaks his mind without running it by a focus group. Sometimes it comes off great, sometimes terrible. But as he keeps on going, the Republican nominee appears to instinctively grasp something that most in the political world don’t understand. The political types obsess over the convention deals and campaign strategy. They eagerly await the upcoming debate and deep analysis of whether to allocate campaign resources to Ohio or Florida.
Trump, on the other hand, acts as if he knows that most Americans had better things to do than watch political conventions. He acts as if events in the real world are more likely to impact the race than anything the campaigns do. And, he’s right. At the moment, he’s trailing Hillary Clinton, but not by all that much. Despite breaking all the political rules, he’s still close enough that an October surprise could send him to the White House.
Does he want that? Yes. Donald Trump wants to be president, but only on his own terms.
He will never be president in the way that Barack Obama or George W. Bush was president. If Donald Trump wins the White House by changing the way that campaigns are run, he will change the way the White House is run. For some, that is a terrifying thought. For others, it can’t be any worse than the status quo.