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Matthews: Trump takes campaign to 'higher level'

Let me finish tonight with the question of Donald Trump.

Let me finish tonight with the question of Donald Trump. What's the man's “exit strategy?” How does he intend to conclude his wild incursion into Republican presidential politics?

There are just three possible exits: he quits, he loses, he wins. The first option is the only one he controls himself. Anybody can quit. That only takes one person, whatever the contest.

So between now and the Iowa Caucuses, one man decides whether Donald Trump remains a prospective Republican nominee or ceases to remain one. That's Trump himself. The second and third options are for the voters.

Donald Trump could do well in Iowa next winter, finish in the money - and decide to push on to the convention in Tampa. He could fight this out all the way, taking what the voters give him - the evangelicals in Iowa, the flinty New Englanders up in New Hampshire, the southern Baptists down in South Carolina. He could head to Nevada and all the other contests, battling his way through the tough hedges of American politics, taking the shots and the tough questions and seeing if he has the right stuff. Nobody can tell him to quit anywhere along the route. He's got the money to pay for the plane ticket. He's got the fame to get a seat at the debate table. Again, only Trump can quit.

Only Trump can say to himself, "You're fired!" So this is what he's gotten himself into. From here on out, there are only three ways this ends for him. He quits. He loses. He wins the presidency. So what's it going to be? Will Trump risk the rough stuff or pull out before it gets serious? What's he got in mind here?

I don't know the answer. I don't know if Trump does.

What I know is, he's taken this campaign of his to a new level. I don't "like" what he's said about the President. I've made that clear enough and will keep doing it. Our best investigative reporter has checked out the birth information. It's there, the original certificate right where it's supposed to be, in the state files in Honolulu.

But Trump's obviously taken this to a higher level. He's proven the established Republican Party is no match for him - at least in the short run. So what's he going to do with his early winnings? Is he going to invest what he's won and go for it - or walk away from the table?

Obviously I'm challenging him. I think he would shake up an otherwise desultory Republican fight. I think there's something missing in the Republican field right now - Trump may have the historic role of proving it. I think the Republicans may well be on the verge of reliving the exciting convention they had in Philadelphia in the months right before World War II. They may well be on the verge of ignoring the usual candidates and picking someone who they actually believe will win. Then it was Wendell Willkie. He won the Republican nomination and ended up giving Franklin Roosevelt a great fight.

Next summer it could be, let's be honest - at this point, just about anyone. So who's going to be the surprise presidential nominee of the Republican Party? Ask yourself: is this a show Donald Trump would want to miss?