In some cases — Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain most obviously in the last cycle — no-hope presidential candidates are essentially running a grift, trying to build their personal brands and sell books or get themselves Fox News sinecures or whatever. Some are ideological true believers trying to draw attention to issues — your Ron Pauls and Bernie Sanderses. I guess maybe Pataki’s generally inexplicable campaign falls into this category — he wants to make the case for old-fashioned northeastern Republicanism to the three or four people left in the party who remain receptive to the message. Then you have the candidacies where the reason and/or scam is less obvious. Your Lincoln Chafees, your Bobby Jindals — there’s no money in this deal, they don’t have any message that isn’t being communicated by someone else, they not only have no chance of winning but no chance of even getting any significant attention.
But Donald Trump is really innovating here, in that he seems to be actually conning himself: his vanity campaign is costing him bucketloads of money. Now, one could argue that the attention he’s getting is gratifying enough that it’s worth all the money. Only 1)for reasons I’ve never understood Donald Trump seems to have a large media platform for every dumb thing he says, and gesturing at running for president every four years was more than sufficient to maintain it, and 2)his campaign is actually costing him access to some mainstream media outlets he would presumably like access too once he stops pretending to run for president. If he wants a Republican to become president — admittedly, I have no idea if he cares — his saying-the-quiet-parts-loud routine isn’t helping. Maybe he’s decided that after a lifetime of grifting it was time to grift himself.