NEW YORK – After months of flirting with politics, Donald Trump said Monday he won't run for president, choosing to stick with hosting "The Celebrity Apprentice" over a bid for the Republican nomination.
The reality TV star and real estate mogul made his announcement at a Manhattan hotel as NBC, which airs his show, rolled out its fall lineup.
"I will not be running for president as much as I'd like to," Trump said.
Trump's office released a formal statement just as he was taking the stage. In it, a confident Trump said he felt he could win the Republican primary and beat President Barack Obama in the general election but had come to realize a presidential campaign could not be run half-heartedly.
"Ultimately, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector," Trump said.
Several Republicans are seeking the nomination in a race that lacks a clear front-runner. Among the top hopefuls are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The GOP is still waiting to hear whether Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin or Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann will get in the race.
Trump has floated the idea of a presidential candidacy in both 1988 and 2000 but claimed he was more serious than ever this time, citing the weak economy and the sense that the United States was in decline. Some public opinion polls showed him leading the slow-to-coalesce Republican field.
In the past few months, he delivered speeches to national GOP groups and traveled to early primary states like New Hampshire and Nevada. During that time, he reignited the so-called "birther" controversy by perpetuating falsehoods about Obama's birth place, insisting that questions were unanswered about whether the president was born in Hawaii. He amassed admiration from many on the far right who have insisted Obama was born overseas and, thus, wasn't eligible to serve as president.
Obama finally distributed his long-form birth certificate earlier this month, indirectly casting Trump as a carnival barker and the controversy as a sideshow. Trump took credit for the release even though it robbed his candidacy of its signature issue.
Obama retaliated days later in his monologue at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, where he poked fun at the birth certificate controversy and mocked Trump and his television show. A stone-faced Trump heard the barbs from both Obama and comedian Seth Meyers. A day later, NBC interrupted the airing of Trump's show with word of an Obama announcement — within 45 minutes the president informed the nation and the world that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had been killed.
Whatever buzz over a Trump candidacy was left fully faded.
Trump would have brought to the race both celebrity and the no-holds-barred criticism of Obama that many Republicans are hungry for in a GOP nominee. But, as it has for months, Trump's participation also could have made the GOP nomination fight a less serious affair, seeming small by comparison to Obama and his presidency.
Trump is the second Republican in a matter of days to say no to a bid for the GOP nomination. Mike Huckabee announced Saturday that he wouldn't seek the presidency.
At the Hilton hotel in New York, NBC said that "The Celebrity Apprentice" would be coming back in midseason. But Bob Greenblatt, the head of NBC entertainment, said the only mystery would be whether Trump was host.