Skeptical onlookers have long wondered whether Donald Trump really wants to be president. The real estate mogul has expressed interest in a White House bid since the late 1980s, but never actually launched a real campaign until 2015. Even then, it still seemed possible that Trump’s campaign might be a massive publicity stunt, a theory he fueled with semi-frequent suggestions that he would drop out if and when he felt like it.
“I'm not a masochist. If I was dropping in the polls where I saw that I wasn't going to win, why would I continue?” Trump told NBC's Chuck Todd in October, adding that he would be more than happy to return to his tremendously lucrative business empire.
Of course, Trump couldn't possibly drop out now that he’s beaten all 16 of his primary campaign challengers and become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. Could he?
Doubts about Trump’s commitment and true motives resurfaced again Thursday when the billionaire seemed to wink at a reporter who asked whether it was possible that he could beat Hillary Clinton, win the presidency, and then decline to actually serve.
Trump “flashed a mischievous smile” when The New York Times’s Jason Horowitz asked about such a scenario. “I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens,” he said, then left for New Hampshire.
It is possible, the Times noted, that Trump was joking, savvily serving up more content for a hungry press. But given his decades-long history of teasing presidential runs and then backing out at the last minute, combined with his statements at the beginning of his campaign, it’s quite possible that the impulsive billionaire might actually decide at the last minute that he didn’t want to be president anyways, and return to his happily gilded, consequence-free life in Trump Tower. Perhaps he'd prefer to use that platform to cement his reputation as the world's biggest media celebrity and launch the television network he’s reportedly discussed with media executives.
Of course, such a move would throw the U.S. political system into chaos. Experts told the Times that Trump abdicating his position would spark all sorts of thorny Constitutional issues. Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar explained that should Trump decide to turn down the presidency after the November 8 election but before the electors cast their ballots on December 19, the president would be decided by the 538 members of the Electoral College. If they could reach a majority decision, then a vote between the top three candidates would go to the House, and the Senate would select a vice president.
If Trump drops out after December 19 but before he is sworn in on January 20, Keysser said that maybe Section Three of the 20th Amendment would apply, and Trump’s vice president-elect would become president. “Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Keyssar, and no wonder: it’s all very confusing.
No matter how it played out, such a move would at least render the last year of apocalyptic political drama for naught, besides serving as a head-spinning advertisement for Trump’s beautiful Turnberry resort and defunct Steaks, and leaving a trail of rabid, destructive xenophobia in its wake. But, at the very least, he would have taught the American public an important lesson about civics. The mind reels at the possibility.