Donald Trump wants your vote, and he's willing to get tough for it. During a speech on Friday, the real estate tycoon told CPAC audience members that he might run for president, placing that likeliness, on a scale of one to 100, at around "75 or 80 percent." The sudden campaign talk sounded awfully familiar: according to TIME, Trump used similar language back in 2011 during an interview with the magazine, indicating that he would be delaying his TV show, Celebrity Apprentice, to focus on campaigning. Of course, he didn't run for president, instead parlaying that viral popularity into further business success and bigger speaking fees. This time around, despite his solid appeal, no one believed him.
After host Sean Hannity asked Trump about a potential run, the seasoned business mogul insisted that he wanted to launch a campaign "so badly" after watching former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fall just short of the presidency in 2012. "I'm looking at this very seriously," he told Hannity. "I don't want what happened to Mitt Romney to happen again, because that was a tremendous blow to this country." Later, in an interview with TIME, Trump re-emphasized his willingness again, because, you know, once just isn't enough. "I am more serious about this than I’ve ever been before," said Trump.
The content of Trump's CPAC speech itself should have been suspect enough. Hopping on the old birther-bandwagon and touting the helpfulness of a wall the length of the U.S. southern border in keeping out illegal immigrants, Trump proved that his campaign strategy (if there is one) hasn't changed much since he last made the rounds. Still, the 68-year-old isn't letting up. On Friday, Trump told The Washington Post,
Everybody feels I’m doing this just to have fun or because it’s good for the brand. Well, it’s not fun. I’m not doing this for enjoyment. I’m doing this because the country is in serious trouble.
Whether it's fun or not isn't really Trump's problem — it's convincing the American voter that he's sincere in his demands and qualifications. The more he bats away hard-nosed concerns about his potential candidacy, the more he diminishes his standing as a legitimate player. In an awkwardly facile moment on Friday, Trump told CPAC audience members,
As far as our borders are concerned, we need strong borders. We need a wall. If I run, I will tell you, the king of building buildings, the king of building walls — nobody can build them like Trump. That I can promise you.
It was unclear at the time whether Trump realized that he was speaking at a conservative action conference or to a group of Vegas property developers.
In reality, Trump has struggled to convince both Republicans and Democrats of the seriousness of his campaign motives in past elections, but this time around may prove even more difficult, should he decide to actually go through with it. With rusted dialogue better suited for a high school debate classroom, his policies desperately need refurbishing: during his CPAC address, Trump claimed that his stance against ISIS was tougher than any other candidate, indirectly admonishing his fellow potential candidates for their positions on the situation in the Middle East.
"Nobody, if I decide to run and win, nobody would be tougher than Donald Trump," he said. "... You may have to have some boots on the ground for a period of time until you get rid of the cancer." Trump seemed to conveniently forget that both Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both potential candidates, have carried nearly identical views in that respect, with the former indicating in an interview with CNN last September that the current ISIS threat "might require some element of U.S. ground power" in order to derail any oncoming crises.
So far, Trump's efforts to paint himself as a stone-faced contender have fallen flat, perhaps bringing any hopes of a candidacy crashing down before they've even had a chance to leave the ground. And if the businessman was still unsure of his chances this weekend, the resounding silence after CPAC host Hannity asked audience members on Friday whether they would vote for a Trump presidency in 2016 spoke volumes enough.
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