May 27, 2024

Political Memo: Trump Bows Out, but Spotlight Barely Dims

Mr. Trump spent months earnestly portraying himself as a potential nominee for a party whose coalition includes family values activists, antigambling religious leaders and deficit hawks, some of whom might just have blanched at his two divorces, casino holdings, penchant for debt financing and formerly liberal positions on some issues.

To some degree he succeeded, using a combination of attributes that made him uniquely qualified to capitalize on the times: Near-universal name recognition (enhanced by his prime-time berth on NBC as the host of “Celebrity Apprentice”), gobs of cash and two decades of experience putting his outsize personality to use in the service of headline creation, starting in the pre-Internet era with the New York City tabloids.

“The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him,” said Stuart Spencer, a former political strategist for Ronald Reagan. Speaking of the proliferation of news outlets interested in politics, Mr. Spencer, 84 and admittedly fascinated by the new landscape, lamented, “There’s no referee anymore to evaluate what are serious issues and what are serious candidates.”

Mr. Trump and his aides said he was dead serious about making a run. But, they said, before Mr. Trump could figure out whether the White House was his golden ring, he was confronted with the pile of gold NBC was offering for a continued role in “Celebrity Apprentice.”

As much as associates said Mr. Trump wanted to keep his political options open longer, the network needed him to make a decision by Monday, when it was announcing its fall television schedule to major advertisers in its annual presentation in New York. “Celebrity Apprentice” is one of its most important programs, and the network would not be able to line up sponsorship commitments as easily with Mr. Trump as a “maybe.”

A senior NBC executive said the network believed it had convinced Mr. Trump to stay on as of last week, though there was a brief period of doubt over the weekend after former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas said he would not run. “Donald started saying: ‘Huckabee’s out. Maybe I should stay in this thing,’ ” said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Television industry executives with knowledge of his negotiation said Mr. Trump’s new contract could bring him as much as $30 million over all, and other estimates published Monday put that figure at upward of $50 million.

“I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately the general election,” Mr. Trump said Monday in a statement. “Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion, and I am not ready to leave the private sector.”

From the time Mr. Trump first made rumblings about running in February, questions abounded as to whether he was merely trying to pump up ratings for his program.

Yet his public doubts about President Obama’s citizenship, and his unrelenting calls for the president to release an original copy of his birth certificate, earned him scores of headlines and choice network and cable interview bookings that became the envy of other potential candidates. The attention fed on itself.

“There comes a point where you can’t ignore something, not because it’s entertaining — which he was on a lot of levels,” said Candy Crowley, the anchor of “State of the Union” on CNN who did an early interview with Mr. Trump. “The question was, ‘Is he driving the conversation?’ And he was.”

Bill Carter and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

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