02/21/2016 11:59 am ET Updated Feb 21, 2017

Donald Trump Does Not Want to Be President


Now that Donald Trump has won the South Carolina Primaries by a considerable margin, we must accept as possible what seemed long inconceivable: He might be our next president. It seems that many, many people actually want that to be the case.

Donald Trump himself is most probably not among these people. If we look closely, I believe we find a surprising but irrefutable fact: Donald Trump does not actually want to be president. He, like us, has probably not given it much thought. If he had, he would have realized it. And if we had, we would as well.

I do not mean to say he does not want to win the primaries and the elections. He wants that, badly. "When you win, it's beautiful," he said after the South Carolina primary, as though it was a ski race. Winning is what Trump is all about. His whole campaign can be summarized by three words: strong, winning, happy. America will be strong, so we will be winning, so everyone will be happy.

Nor do I mean to say Trump is afraid that he would not be up to the job. Of course not. Everyone running at the moment tries to exude confidence (and those less convincing, like Jeb Bush, fall by the wayside). But nobody boasts more than Trump, and that is certainly because nobody is more convinced of their own abilities.

Finally, I do not mean that Trump does not want to become president insofar as it is a status. A Trump inauguration would be the crowning achievement of his narcissistic self-promotion. And Trump would love the media attention that comes with being president.

So yes, Trump wants to win the elections; he thinks he can do the job; and, he wants to become president and shine. Beyond that? Not so much. Trump has shown no sign that he actually wants to do the job itself.

For starters, we have hardly any clue about what he would do as president, except promote his brand. Even in a field of candidates short on concrete programs, his campaign stands out in its vacuity. His positions are either silly, (Mexico will pay for a wall) or unconstitutional (abolish birthright citizenship), or empty (we must enforce our laws). His promised tools are borrowed from his book The Art of the Deal, and they are laughably simplistic: First, we have to be strong. Second, we have to negotiate well. Business this may be. Politics it is not.

All of this is not just unrealistic and vacuous, as has been pointed out. It is also a clear sign of Trump's absolute lack of interest in governing. If he admits in debates that he gets his information from TV shows, if he demonstrates ignorance of core matters (like what the nuclear Triad is), he demonstrates not only that he is clueless. He demonstrates that he is ultimately uninterested. He has no opinion on these issues because he does not care about them. He does not care about them because he does not care about the job itself.

Most likely, Trump does not even care about the things he pretends to care about. Beyond a certain residual racism, he probably has no strong feelings about Mexicans or Muslims one way or the other. He has never really cared for the veterans, despite his pandering. He cares a little about his tax plan (because it affects him) but not about its details or its feasibility. If he was for the Iraq war before he was against it (as we now know) it is merely because he has never had a strong view either way. Abolish Obamacare or uphold the mandate? He probably cannot be bothered either way. He is not honest about his own views (because he has none); all that he is honest about is the fact that everything he says is mere advertising. He cannot be accused of lying because he does not even pretend to tell the truth.

And the America he wants to make great again? It is clear that he cares about America only insofar as it concerns himself. Nobody in the Western world, not even Hitler, has embodied as fully the idea of Louis XIV, l'état c'est moi. Hitler wanted to reshape all of Germany, and the world, after his horrible ideas. Trump could not care less about his country or the world. Or, for that matter, ideas. Trump cares about Trump only.

In this sense, Jimmy Carter had it right when he described a Trump presidency as less scary than a Cruz presidency. Cruz, unlike Trump, badly wants to be president. He cares about enacting his ideology. Trump, by contrast, is malleable because he does not care either way. Once the winning is done, there is no further worthy goal.

Will either Trump, or voters, realize this before it is too late? Trump himself may not. For some time, he seemed to give signs of wanting to quit. When he said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose voters, it was perhaps not a sign of his confidence, or his disdain for his base, but a cry for help. But if that was so, it did not last long. Trump cares so much about winning, he may well pay the price of actually having to be president. When he gets tired of it it will be too late.

The only hope, then, lies with the voters. So far, voters seem to like Trump's confidence, and his populist rhetoric so much that they do not care about his disinterest in actually filling the position he is applying for. Maybe they even like the idea of a president who does not actually care. But maybe they realize that once the winning is done, a president actually has to govern. And they realize that this is not what Trump really wants to do.