Would Trump Ever Leave the Race?

Donald Trump has fought through a 17-challenger field to win the Republican presidential nomination.  Now the smartest move for Trump would be to leave the race. Yes, I mean that.  (And I am not the only one to wonder if his commitment to finish the race is less than complete.)

But after coming this far, why would a man who wrote a book called Never Give Up walk away?  The answer has nothing to do with poll numbers or GOP malcontents.  The reason is because of Trump’s long-term perspective gained from decades as a successful businessman.

As he regularly tells us, Trump is a businessman, not a politician.  And, unlike one-hit wonders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, he has built a career in which he has founded and grown numerous enterprises.  One of the key talents underlying this long career is his preternatural ability to know when to change course.  To understand this uncanny instinct for knowing when to switch strategies one needs to look back at the most dramatic time in Trump’s career.  In the early 1990s, Trump faced disaster.  Heavily invested in Atlantic City gaming ventures, Trump had billions of dollars in debt, almost a billion of it personally guaranteed.   His personal financial demise was predicted.

How did Trump react to what he described as “the lowest moment I had yet encountered in my life” (Never Give Up p.2)?  He told his advisors that it was “time to move forward” and announced a lot of “new projects I had lined up for us.  There were a lot of projects, and they were big deals” (Never Give Up p. 3).  However, they were not in Atlantic City.  He worked on Mar-a-Lago in Florida and acquired 40 Wall Street, among many others.  As he told the Wall Street Journal regarding Atlantic City, “I said, ‘OK, now it’s junk bond time.  It’s been a great experience, but I’m out.”  Many have criticized Trump for bankrupting his casinos in exiting from the much-hyped campaign to revive old worn down Atlantic City with the fantasy of turning it into a new Las Vegas.  However, two decades later that effort has largely been a big bust, and Trump can be seen as prescient for getting out when he did.

Trump’s goal was not to succeed in one specific venture.  It was broader – to build a worldwide business.  To do so, one has “to pursue multiple options … at the same time … you’ve got to have back-up options. … Don’t ever be afraid to change your mind about something. …  I’m fortunate to have the capacity to change my thought patterns quickly” (Never Give Up, pp. 68, 92, 95).  In many respects this ability has underlain his whole career.  He started as just one more New York real estate developer.  However, over the decades he has transformed his operation from being just one of a hundred successful real estate development businesses into a unique marketing and branding enterprise.  

Trump is capable of making the bold unexpected move, and doing something no politician would think of.   But would he turn the race over to someone else?  Let’s look at the benefits of such a bold switch now at the top of his presidential run:

Better the kingmaker than the king

Where does Trump move to if he is no longer the GOP presidential candidate?  He becomes the kingmaker of the Republican Party.  He certainly would secure a commitment to pick his successor as the GOP presidential candidate as a condition for granting the fondest wish of the party apparatus and leaving the race.  This would be someone who supports him and his policies, foreclosing anti-Trump establishment types like Paul Ryan.  Trump should be confident that he would make a good choice.  After all, identifying and promoting strong talent was the fundamental premise of The Apprentice

We can be sure that the author of the Art of the Deal would secure many other commitments from the GOP.  Trump would instantly become the elder statesman of the Republican Party.  He could exercise his influence over issues without having to engage in the grubby compromises of being in office.  Look at it this way.  If he stays in the race and loses, he is finished.  If he wins, all he gets are a few years in office fighting a recalcitrant Congress.  On the other hand, if he leaves now, he will have enormous influence over his designated successor’s administration.  If his designee loses, it will be that guy’s fault, and Trump will still have the ongoing influence he would have negotiated with the party at his exit and the ability to continue his crusade untarnished by defeat.

The Kids and the Long Game

Trump has shown he knows how to play the long game.  For example, he spent 30 years developing the Penn Yards project on Manhattan’s West Side.

One of the unexpected and exciting aspects of Trump’s candidacy was the introduction to the wider world of his adult children.  Donald, Jr. (Don), Ivanka (wow!) and Eric Trump are smart, able, dynamic and telegenic.  Any or all of them could have amazing political careers.  Especially open paths are available to them now in New York.  The New York Republican Party is not strong.  Both U.S. Senate seats, the governorship and the New York City mayoralty are all held by Democrats badly in need of defeating.  As one myself, I am confident that New York Republicans (who overwhelmingly supported Donald in the primary) would enthusiastically support the candidacy of the next generation Trumps.  This is how you build the Trump brand beyond one generation.  

A political career would also offer a way for these capable people to move outside Dad’s shadow without rebelling, always a challenge for the sons and daughters of high profile fathers.

The Voice

Running for and holding office puts a huge kink in one’s freedom to do and say what must be done and said.  The pain Trump was suffering was palpable when he endorsed Paul Ryan and John McCain in his recent campaign speech in Wisconsin.  Yet internal critics like Ryan and McCain are certain to be a permanent trial if Trump is president.  Outside of office with the permanent bully pulpit he would gain from voluntarily stepping away, Trump would be in a position not only to advocate his policies without reservation or compromise, but also to use his well demonstrated attack skills to go after those who attack him and his.  In particular, Trump has advanced positions on trade, immigration and foreign military ventures that go against those of the Beltway establishment.   Only a strong powerful voice from outside the establishment can keep the GOP on the populist course Trump has envisioned.   What better voice than Donald Trump himself, a voice which can actually be made stronger and freer by the bold step of stepping away from the race now.

James W. Lucas is an attorney in New York City with decades of experience in advising businesses.  He is also the author of Are We the People? How We the People Can Take Charge of Our Constitution and Timely Renewed: Amendments to Restore the American Constitution.

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