WASHINGTON (AFP) — Donald Trump’s meteoric political rise may have come as a surprise to many — but for the real estate mogul, the White House is a prize he’s had his eye on for nearly 30 years.
Here’s a look at the billionaire’s journey as he barrels towards seizing the Republican nomination for president in July.
October 7, 1999: Bill Clinton is in the White House and Trump pursues a presidential nomination for the small Reform Party. The developer, a tabloid favorite thanks to his flamboyant personal life, had briefly flirted with candidacy in 1988, joking that TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey could be his running mate.
As he launches his bid, Trump ditches the Republican Party and on his way out bashes presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, saying the conservative ideologue has a “love affair with Adolf Hitler.”
He stakes out a left-leaning position on health care, and is already employing a populist message of making America “great.”
“I’m conservative, and even very conservative,” he says. “But I’m quite liberal and getting much more liberal on health care and other things.”
“I believe in universal health care. I believe in whatever it takes to make people well and better. It’s an entitlement to this country if we’re going to have a great country.”
Trump’s candidacy fizzles after four months and he blames others for the fiasco, including the Reform Party, which he describes as “a total mess.”
April 27, 2011: US President Barack Obama calls a press conference to publish his birth certificate in an attempt to end conspiracy theories, fueled by Trump, that he was born outside the country and therefore ineligible to be president.
“We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do,” Obama says as television networks break into regular programming to cover the statement live.
Forcing Obama’s hand in the matter is a victory of sorts for Trump.
The president exacts revenge a few days later at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, roasting the businessman who is a guest at the event.
Trump, Obama jokes, can now “get back to focusing on the issues that matter like, ‘Did we fake the moon landing?’ ‘What really happened at Roswell?” and ‘Where are Biggie and Tupac?'”
But Trump’s political influence is growing, and Republican 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney travels to Las Vegas to receive the businessman’s coveted endorsement in front of TV cameras.
March 14, 2014: After carefully preparing a run for governor of New York, Trump backs out.
But he writes on Twitter: “I have much bigger plans in mind — stay tuned, will happen!”
June 15, 2015: Jeb Bush announces he will seek the Republican nomination to run for president.
“Do we really need another Bush in the White House — we have had enough of them,” Trump declares on Twitter.
Bush, the son and brother of presidents, is leading polls and probably has no idea what is coming.
The next day, Trump descends the escalator of Trump Tower in New York and announces that he too is running for president.
His slogan is “Make America Great Again!” and one of his first campaign promises is to build a “great, great wall” on the border with Mexico.
The political establishment doesn’t take Trump’s candidacy seriously.
“He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation,” DNC spokeswoman Holly Shulman quips.
The first poll showing Trump ahead of a large pack of Republican candidates appears in USA Today on July 14.
The conventional wisdom is that it’s a fluke. Trump will not win the nomination, Karlyn Bowman, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, tells AFP.
“He just has too many weaknesses,” she says at the time.
By the first debate on August 6, Trump has stirred up a string of controversies that include accusing Mexico of sending rapists and criminals to the United States, and saying that Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, isn’t a war hero.
Trump goes on to insinuate that a Fox News journalist was tough on him in the debate because she was having her period. And in a Rolling Stone magazine interview he mocks his Republican rival Carly Fiorina: “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
Meanwhile, support for The Donald among Republican voters rises from 25 to 30 to 35 percent.
On December 7, Trump stuns the political establishment by calling for the nation’s borders to be closed to Muslims.
Trump provokes, contradicts himself, retweets hoaxes and never apologizes — earning him nonstop coverage on news channels, and saving him tens of millions of dollars in political advertising.
February 1, 2016: Republican leaders briefly hope that Trump’s candidacy will collapse after his second-place finish in Iowa. But in the weeks to come, he wins a majority of contests and his opponents drop out one by one, including his most vocal critic, Jeb Bush.
Trump’s fans appear to support their man no matter what he says.
“Someday they’re going to understand,” he tells supporters Tuesday in Florida, where he missed out on a sweep of the state by just one county. “Someday when we take it all, they’ll understand.”