I should probably admit that I didn't actually think Donald Trump would run for president. He's come close several times, reveled in the attention, and then abruptly walked away before having to do any real work. It seemed entirely possible to me that he would schedule an event, announce he has $9 billion, and then drop the mic.
But I was mistaken. To the delight of late-night hosts everywhere, Donald Trump is an official Republican presidential candidate.
Trump makes 2016 announcementJune 16, 201515:01
Watching Trump's rambling announcement, delivered in Trump Tower in New York City, the event had surreal, performance-art quality. It was as if an odd television personality and reality-show host announced he expects to lead the free world -- which is what this turned out to be.
Clearly, this endeavor has all the markings of a vanity exercise to end all vanity exercises, though Trump has hired actual campaign staffers and has maintained a candidate-like travel schedule, which will include a big event tomorrow in New Hampshire.
This does not change the fact, however, that Trump will simply never be elected president.
In fact, FiveThirtyEight reported this morning that Trump, as a quantifiable matter, is literally the most unpopular presidential candidate in at least a generation.
...Trump is the first candidate in modern presidential primary history to begin the campaign with a majority of his own party disliking him. A whopping 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to an average of the three most recent polls. [...] Taking into account name recognition, Trump's net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) of -32 percentage points stands out for its pure terribleness at this point in the campaign. Like his unfavorable rating, it is by far the worst of the 106 presidential candidates since 1980 who are in our database.
This is not a situation in which people might get to like Trump once they get to know him. People have already gotten to know him, and to put it charitably, they find him distasteful.
So why is Trump running? For one thing, he doesn't know how unpopular he is. Indeed, Trump has an extraordinarily high opinion of himself and his abilities, and seems to work from the assumption that he's offering Americans the privilege of voting for him.
For another, he has very little to lose. A bored billionaire who's never held public office wants people to pay attention to him? From Trump's perspective, running for president was probably an obvious move.
And by some measures, that's a shame. As Rachel noted on the show last night, there's a very real possibility that Trump, benefiting from high name recognition, will poll well enough to participate in upcoming GOP debates -- which necessarily means taking a slot away from a more serious candidate.
It's not just the debates, either. In the coming months, it's easy to imagine Trump generating all kinds of media attention with his strange antics, which will in turn mean less media oxygen for real candidates trying to break through.
What's more, as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, it's worth considering the effects on the political system. It's easy to make the case that it cheapens the political process to have ridiculous characters seek important national offices. The country is confronted with real challenges and real candidates whose solutions deserve to be scrutinized carefully. When carnival barkers launch vanity exercises, it's an unwelcome distraction.
But as of today, "Donald J. Trump for President" exists anyway.
Postscript: In an official press statement, DNC National Press Secretary Holly Shulman said this morning, "Today, Donald Trump became the second major Republican candidate to announce for president in two days. He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward hearing more about his ideas for the nation." Ouch.