The Slatest

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Does Donald Trump Want to Be President?

Donald Trump in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Friday.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

In the last 24 hours, two people I know have brought up the possibility that Donald Trump doesn’t actually want to be president. I mean, two people I know have brought it up in my presence. Many more of them may have discussed the subject somewhere I don’t have access to, like in a work chatroom I’m not in, or on their way to lunch, or with their spouses in a canoe in Vermont. The point is it’s a question at least two people have asked after this week’s news, and when you have to write a Trump Apocalypse Watch post every day, you take an idea wherever you can find it.

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So. Does Donald Trump really want to be president? The evidence against is this week’s meltdown over Alicia Machado, which has taken place during and after a debate that began with Trump in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton in the polls. It’s his longest string of bad news cycles since he was feuding with the family of late Army captain Humayun Khan—a feud which also took place just after he’d pulled even with Clinton. The timing seems like self-sabotage. And then there’s the July New York Times story that quoted Trump saying that he might or might not take the oath of office after winning the election.

But in my role as a guy who’s been reading about Donald Trump every miserable day for more than a year, I believe the evidence indicates that Donald Trump absolutely wants to be president. For one, he thinks he that he’s going to be be president: That he’ll only fail to win if the election is rigged against him, and that the polls that show him losing are wrong. Moreover, the idea that he doesn’t want the job would require him to have some form of self-doubt—a sense that he couldn’t do it, or that it would be too much of a hassle. But there is no evidence that Trump thinks that there’s any subject in the world that he couldn’t master in more than a few hours, and there have already been reports that the people around him have a plan to delegate all the actual work of the presidency to someone else. There’s no reason for him to be worried about the workload.

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In a broader sense, the idea that Trump doesn’t want to be president would require him to have thought about the future. But here’s no evidence that I’m aware of that Trump ever thinks about any time period besides the present moment. He appears to have genuinely no idea what positions he’s taken in the past, even if he only took those positions an hour ago; he was apparently unable to prepare for Monday’s debate because he could not focus on the idea of doing so for more than a few minutes at a time. Trump wants to be president not in the sense that he’s prepared himself mentally for the world’s biggest job but because at any given moment running for president is the best way to get the feedback he craves from rally crowds, Twitter, and cable news. His meltdowns take place when his access to that positive feedback is interrupted. Believing that Trump wouldn’t want to become or continue being president requires believing that he’d voluntarily take himself out of the world’s biggest spotlight—and who believes that?

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

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