It’s been three months since Donald Trump was first asked the question – 112 days to be exact – and hardly a single one of them has gone by without someone asking those around the campaign the same thing: “Does Donald Trump really want to be President?” That’s usually followed immediately by another: “When is he going to drop out?” The truth is, only The Donald knows – but he certainly says he wants to be President.
If you don’t take him by his word, consider his actions.
First, there’s his schedule. On tap for this week, Waterloo, Iowa, Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlanta, Georgia. Sure he isn’t doing three stops a day like the other candidates, but he never did. And yes, he doesn’t have to sleep in unfamiliar hotel rooms, drag his luggage through airports, or cram into commercial flights, but the campaign trail is grueling nonetheless. It’s hard to argue a 69 year-old would spend the last three months hop-scotching America’s small towns for the fun of it.
Secondly, there’s his staff. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski has told NBC News from day one that the campaign is going to the convention and “Mr. Trump will be on the ballot in every state.”
In order to do that, they need organization and they have it in at least eight states.
In Iowa he has a dozen full time staffers, including Chuck Laudner, a seasoned Iowa political operative who ran Rick Santorum’s shoestring Presidential campaign to a victory in the Hawkeye State four years ago.
Not just staff, but ground game.
Today, in Waterloo, there was a big shift in focus and a big sign that the campaign is buckling down. Laminated signs dotted around the ballroom not of Trump’s face or name, but of caucus instructions and tips on how to be an effective precinct captain.
In New Hampshire, home to Lewandowski, there is a brick-and-mortar campaign headquarters, at least six paid staffers and leadership teams in all 10 counties. Same thing goes for South Carolina, with at least eight staffers.
And then there are his words. Trump may have taken a small hit in some of the most recent polling, but he’s still number one across the board and his campaign is as bullish as ever. “Does anyone ever ask Hillary Clinton when she’s dropping out? Did they ever ask Mitt Romney? No.” one staffer scoffed. Truth is, the whole ‘I’ll drop out if my numbers take a dive’ is nothing new. Trump has been saying it since day one.
Bragging about his poll numbers and laughing off the constant ‘free-fall’ predictions, Trump told the crowd of 1,100 in Waterloo’s Electric Ballroom, “I want to plateau now. I’m satisfied!”
Still, the Trump campaign is a campaign and like any other, after time (112 days to be exact), you learn how to read the body language or the ‘Trumpspeak’ if you will.
The attacks on Marco Rubio are telling. In fact, the political whisperers will tell you they may be one of Trump’s smartest and most forward looking moves yet. Young, charismatic, the son of Cuban immigrants, and someone who can play up his experience as a senator while appealing to outsiders – Rubio could run away with it all. By calling him ‘a kid’, ‘sweaty’, and attacking his senate voting record, Trump is trying to cut him off at the knees. The campaign may not call him a threat, but - like your mom always told you - actions speak louder than words.
The real sign of just how serious Trump is will be money and whether he spends it. So far he hasn’t had to dig deep. The campaign’s 20 million dollar budget for media buys through September is still sitting pretty in its coffers thanks to all the free press.
So is Donald J Trump really running for President? Yes. When will he drop out? Who knows, but 112 days in and 116 days until the first votes are cast in Iowa, it’s a smart bet that won’t be any time soon.
NBC’s Katy Tur has been on the road following the Donald Trump campaign for 104 of the last 112 days.