There were a lot of reasons why pundits refused to believe that Donald Trump could become the Republican nominee. Most of these had to do with naïve misconceptions about the nature of the modern GOP, or naïve faith in the predictive capacities of political science. But one source of skepticism has remained difficult to dismiss, even after the mogul clinched his party’s bid: Why would Donald Trump want to be president?
After all, Trump really seems to enjoy being an eccentric pseudo-billionaire who spends his days cutting ribbons and watching cable news. And he has been utterly unwilling to perform the workaday duties of a presidential candidate, let alone those of an actual president. He refuses to make fundraising calls, or assemble a campaign staff large enough to achieve basic competence, or even to spend more than a dozen nights of the campaign away from one of his homes.
This is a man who has shown no real interest in civics or governance at any point in his adult life — while showing immense interest in publicity stunts. So when the former communications director of the Make America Great Again super-pac claimed that Trump’s goal from the beginning was to come in second back in March, it was taken as gospel.
The idea that Trump didn’t actually want to win waned for a few days after he secured the nomination. But when the mogul chose to spend the first few weeks of his general-election campaign litigating the Mexican heritage of a federal judge, the notion gained renewed currency — especially after Vanity Fair reported that Trump was already discussing plans to channel his political following into a cable-news empire.
According to Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine, that is, in fact, how the mogul’s campaign described his endgame to John Kasich, when trying to convince the Ohio governor to become Trump’s running mate: >
One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?
When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.
Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?
“Making America great again” was the casual reply.
As with so many of his ventures, Trump would like to brand his administration — but not actually run it.
Kasich did not take Donald Jr. up on that offer. And the rejection was so stinging, Trump removed Brian Sandoval — a swing-state governor with charisma and Latino heritage — from consideration solely because of his endorsement of Kasich during the primary, Draper reports.
It’s entirely possible that the Trump campaign was lying to Kasich about the amount of power he would wield in a Trump White House. The mogul’s campaign is not known for its honesty. But considering everything else we know about Trump, it seems possible that Mike Pence really would be the brains behind the Trump administration. Which might not be a comforting thought — the Indiana governor isn’t exactly as swift as the coursing river.