ABC News' Michael Falcone, Jennifer Wlach, Sara Just and Devin Dwyer report:
After a roller-coaster flirtation with a presidential bid, Donald Trump bowed out of the 2012 contest in true Trump fashion on Monday, saying that while he would not be a candidate this year, if he had run, he would have been able to win the primary and the general election too.
"I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election," Trump said in a statement on Monday. "I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half heartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector."
Trump, who had contemplated running for president in years past, seemed poised take the plunge this time around. He even had a tentative date set for a campaign announcement: May 25 in the atrium of Trump Tower in New York City.
According to Trump aides, the real estate and reality television mogul had even settled on campaign consultants to help steer his potential White House bid. Trump had already made two visits to New Hampshire within the last month and had a series of events planned in that state and in Iowa over the next few weeks.
"This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country," Trump said in the statement. "I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half heartedly."
In the end, however, his decision almost certainly had more to do with his lucrative NBC television contract for his "Apprentice" franchise than anything else. Trump was running out of time to decide whether he would sign on for another season of the "Celebrity Apprentice." Sources close to Trump said negotiations ran to the 11th hour with reports of Trump on hourly calls throughout the weekend with NBC executives trying to convince him to continue to helm the show.
Some news reports cited NBC offering Trump as much as $60 million to renew his contract, and sources said that NBC told Trump that the network had lined up three years worth of sponsors for "The Apprentice" — but only with Trump's participation in the show.
This is not the first time Trump has passed on a presidential bid. He previously considered running in 1988 and again in 1999, when he nearly ran on the Reform Party's ticket. He first started making noises about potentially running in 2012 in several media appearances in Oct. 2010.
Over the last few months Trump enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of many national presidential polls thanks, in part, to name recognition that far exceeded that of any other potential candidates vying for the GOP nomination.
In the most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll from last month, Trump was running in second place, behind only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And a Gallup survey of GOP voters from April 25 through May 8, found Trump supported by 16 percent of Republicans; tied for first place with former Arkansas Mike Huckabee, who announced over the weekend that will not enter the race. (The same survey found that the number of Republicans who dislike Trump stood at 44 percent).
But for a while, Trump seemed to be riding high.
Late last month during a day-long visit to New Hampshire, he declared victory over President Obama when the White House released his long-form birth certificate after Trump spent weeks demanding it.
"I'm very proud of myself because I've accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish," Trump told a gaggle of local and national reporters who assembled in an airport hangar in Portsmouth on April 27. "I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue."
Trump spent the next seven hours taking a whirlwind tour of the state, which holds the nation's first primary, swooping into a roadside diner and, leading a raucous walk around downtown Portsmouth, signing autographs and stopping by local businesses along the way.
"Who else gets this crowd? Does anybody else get this crowd?" Trump boasted.
Trump was talking to a small circle of advisers about a potential presidential bid, including special counsel Michael Cohen, who was known as Trump's political "pit bull."
"I think the world of him," Cohen said of Trump in an interview with ABC News last month. "I respect him as a businessman, and I respect him as a boss."
Cohen was one of the key players orchestrating Trump's potential run. Last year he co-founded the website, "Should Trump Run?," which as of Monday received more than 1.1 millon hits. Cohen also swooped into Iowa earlier in March – on Trump's private jet — to gauge support there for a possible Trump run.
“It’s really about him,” top Trump aide Michael Cohen said in a brief interview with ABC News on Monday. “He’s the one who would have to really go through this, and not me — that’s for sure.”
When asked when Trump made the decision not to run, Cohen said, “I don’t know the answer to that." He added that, "right now he’s just taking a breather.”
Trump had planned to continue reaching out to voters in key early primary states with a slew of campaign visits scheduled for the next few weeks. By Monday afternoon, he had canceled an address Tea Party activists in Columbia, South Carolina, on May 19. He was to headline the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner on June 10, and attend the New Hampshire Institute of Politics “Politics and Eggs” forum later in the month.
His prescence at the Iowa event appeared in doubt.
"While our invitation to Mr. Trump never hinged on a potential Trump candidacy, Iowans responded enthusiastically and with great interest in his appearance at our annual Lincoln Day Dinner," Iowa GOP spokesman Casey Mills said in a statement. "Today, it is our understanding that Mr. Trump is reassessing his commitment. We anticipate a final decision on his June 10 appearance will be made tomorrow and we will make further comments at that time."
The momentum for a Trump campaign started to wane earlier this month when Trump’s views on President Obama’s birth certificate, and his refusal to release his tax returns, began to draw a barrage of popular criticism — even mockery — from opponents.
Trump was the center of attention at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner where he was panned in jokes by President Obama and comedian Seth Meyers. "I've been there before over the years but I've never seen anything like took place last night, because so much of a focus was on me," Trump said after the dinner in Washington.
The very next day, however, when Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, much of the joking stopped, as the national mood shifted away from the circus-like campaign atmosphere to the sobering news.
"We should spend the next several days not debating party politics, but in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11 and those currently fighting for our freedom,” Trump told ABC News at the time. “God Bless America!"
In his statement on Monday, Trump looked ahead to the coming presidential contest and managed to fit in a jab at Obama.
"I look forward to supporting the candidate who is the most qualified to help us tackle our country’s most important issues," Trump said, "and am hopeful that, when this person emerges, he or she will have the courage to take on the challenges of the Office and be the agent of change that this country so desperately needs."
Read Donald Trump's full statement on his 2012 decision:
After considerable deliberation and reflection, I have decided not to pursue the office of the Presidency. This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country. I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election. I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half heartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.
I want to personally thank the millions of Americans who have joined the various Trump grassroots movements and written me letters and e-mails encouraging me to run. My gratitude for your faith and trust in me could never be expressed properly in words. So, I make you this promise: that I will continue to voice my opinions loudly and help to shape our politician’s thoughts. My ability to bring important economic and foreign policy issues to the forefront of the national dialogue is perhaps my greatest asset and one of the most valuable services I can provide to this country. I will continue to push our President and the country’s policy makers to address the dire challenges arising from our unsustainable debt structure and increasing lack of global competitiveness. Issues, including getting tough on China and other countries that are methodically and systematically taking advantage of the United States, were seldom mentioned before I brought them to the forefront of the country’s conversation. They are now being debated vigorously. I will also continue to push for job creation, an initiative that should be this country’s top priority and something that I know a lot about. I will not shy away from expressing the opinions that so many of you share yet don’t have a medium through which to articulate.
I look forward to supporting the candidate who is the most qualified to help us tackle our country’s most important issues and am hopeful that, when this person emerges, he or she will have the courage to take on the challenges of the Office and be the agent of change that this country so desperately needs.
Thank you and God Bless America!
Donald J. Trump