- The Washington Times
Monday, May 16, 2011

Real estate magnate and reality TV star Donald Trump, who teased Republican supporters for months with the prospect of an unlikely but colorful presidential bid, said Monday that the show is over: He will not be a candidate.

“After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the presidency,” the New York billionaire said in a statement.

Mr. Trump, who earlier this year rocketed to the top of the field of GOP contenders by consistently hammering President Obama about his birth certificate, had slipped in the polls recently in the wake of the White House’s release of the contested document.

A Public Policy Polling survey released last week showed the pugnacious, blunt-spoken star of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” had fallen into fifth place in the field. Still, Mr. Trump, who has never run for public office, insisted Monday that he would have won if he had jumped in.

“I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election,” he said, promising his backers that he would support the candidate “who is the most qualified.”

Mr. Trump, who has been appearing at political events - popping up in Iowa and New Hampshire - and blitzing talk radio and cable news, said he concluded that “ultimately business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.”

Mr. Trump’s departure may help former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another wealthy would-be GOP candidate who has positioned himself as a savvy, pro-business candidate, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has sounded off on some of the same populist themes that fueled Mr. Trump’s rise.

Pundits and other political observers had predicted that Mr. Trump, who has talked often of running for the presidency in the past, would get cold feet again - especially when the realities of the financial disclosures required for the office set in.

But others speculated Monday that growing pressure from NBC over the future of its “Apprentice” reality show franchise may have been the deciding factor.

ABC News reported that Mr. Trump had been offered a deal worth as much as $60 million to renew his NBC television contract for the show.

At an NBC event in New York City on Monday morning promoting the network’s fall lineup, Mr. Trump stole the spotlight with his unexpected announcement.

“This will be our 12th season, and I have to say, I love ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ I’ve decided that we are going to continue onward with ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ we are going to continue making lots and lots of money for charity. I will not be running for president, as much as I’d like to,” he told the crowd.

First grabbing political headlines with the so-called “birther” issue, Mr. Trump declared victory over the White House last month when a reluctant Mr. Obama finally released his “long-form” birth certificate from a Hawaii hospital to quell speculation that he was not a “natural-born” U.S. citizen.

Mr. Trump told reporters in New Hampshire shortly after the announcement that he was “very proud of myself, because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue.”

But the president enjoyed a measure of revenge three days later, ridiculing his would-be antagonist, who sat stone-faced in the audience during Mr. Obama’s cutting remarks at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.

Erick Erickson, of the conservative blog Red State, said Monday that Mr. Trump had begun to lose control of the narrative of his speculative campaign.

“For the first time in a very long time, the maestro of media spin let a story spin out ahead of him beyond his control,” he wrote. “Trump does not like story lines he cannot control.”

• David Eldridge can be reached at deldridge@washingtontimes.com.

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