WASHINGTON, DC – Whatever becomes of his candidacy – whether he wins the Republican Party’s nomination or is even elected President of the United States – Americans and the rest of the world will be wondering for a long time how the phenomenon of Donald Trump happened. They are already doing so.
The first thing to understand is that American political parties have nothing to do with who runs for the US presidency. In fact, US political parties amount to a collection of functionaries who arrange the process of selecting a presidential nominee and push for victories for the party in the November elections.
Presidential candidates are, in reality, freelancers. They decide on their own whether to run, and the decision is based on their sense (and perhaps polling) of how they would do and whether they can collect the necessary funds.
Some people run simply out of ego or greed. The publicity that attends a presidential bid can garner even a failed candidate a book contract, a television gig, or a well-paid speaking career (or perhaps all three). Trump ran on the basis of his celebrity. A famous developer with his name on all sorts of edifices and a personal fortune, he had been the star of a long-running prime-time “reality” show – a lodestone of US popular culture. He knew that America’s party system is so nebulous that he could decide on his own to run for President, and that there was no party structure to stop him. (At least, that is what he is hoping, if he heads to the nominating convention in Cleveland this summer without enough delegates to sew up the nomination.)