Donald Trump was never going to be the Republican nominee for president.
He was always “running for ratings” – using the spotlight afforded possible presidential contenders to focus attention on his business endeavors and entertainment enterprises.
But Trump really did want to enter the race for the GOP nod.
Every indication was that he planned to keep the speculation spinning for months.
And he could have done so, had it not been for one of the most successful political interventions in modern history.
After Trump embraced the sometimes racist and always ridiculous “birther” movement, the Obama White House released the president’s long-form birth certificate.
That was embarrassing, to be sure.
But Trump could have flipped over to an equally mad mission – say, promoting Paul Ryan’s plan to use Medicare money to shore up the bottom lines of private insurers – and carried on. If the serial-self promoter is good at anything, it’s pivoting to the next platform.
Unfortunately for Trump, Obama did not merely release the birth certificate.
The president used his appearance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner to administer the final blow to what remained of Trump’s “credibility.”
In a televised appearance that would become a YouTube phenomenon, Obama committed an act of political sabotage that effectively ended the Trump boomlet.
The president’s devastating monologue – delivered with Trump sitting just feet away – focused largely on the absurdity of the developer’s claims regarding birth certificates, executive experience and just about everything else.
The president was graceful enough. But he was not slipping the knife in gently. He was bringing the hammer down.
“I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but nobody is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” mused Obama, as he nailed Trump with one blow after another.
Trump, whose inability to take a joke was on full display, had to sit there as the president of the United States continued to pound him.
Obama was not just banging around the birther issue, however.
He was aiming at Trump’s supposed strength.
The president — who in barely 24 hours would stake a striking claim to executive proficiency with the announcement that a mission he ordered had taken out Osama bin Laden –ridiculed Trump’s “executive experience”:
“On a recent episode of the ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. You, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. So ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf, you fired Gary Busey. The are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well-handled, sir. Well-handled.”
That was a brutal hit, as rough as any attack ad ever conceived by Karl Rove.
It was barely necessary for Seth Meyers to complete the battery with his observation that: “Donald Trump has been saying he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising, because I just assumed that he was running as a joke.”
Trump was finished. He disappeared from the room without consequential comment that night and has barely been heard from since.
Until Monday, when he exited the race not with a bang but with a whimpering press release from his soon-to-be-underemployed “political director” that had Trump saying: After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the Presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country. I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election. I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half heartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.
The truth is that Trump really wanted to run. He had invested in constructing campaign apparatus in key states, made visits to New Hampshire and elbowed his way into the thick of the competition. He had even reserved space for a May 25 announcement of candidacy at – where else? – the Trump Tower Atrium in New York.
But that dream died with the last laughs on the night of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
I do not happen to hold to the view that President Obama is a political whiz. You don’t lose the luster of a landslide victory and control over both houses of Congress in two years without making some serious missteps.
But what he did to Trump was a masterful political act.
Trump was never going to be the GOP nominee, But he drew attention to a Republican race that everyone who is anyone has been avoiding. He also highlighted genuine concerns about Obama’s flawed trade policies in particular and failure to tackle the jobs issue effectively. As such, he was a problem for the president.
Until, of course, the president turned Trump into a punchline.