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Choose Your Own Trump Campaign

Are there any possible ways for this candidate to hit a dead end? We have yet to find out.

You are sitting at the top of a dark, gleaming tower, surrounded by photos of yourself. You are a best-selling author, have five beautiful children, and have convinced millions of Americans to watch you fire people on television for nearly a decade.

And yet, something feels missing. You were surely meant for greater glory than this, no? Just then, you spy a paper on your desk that doesn't appear to be a clipping of a newspaper story about yourself. You pick it up — it's a treasure map! There's an X over Hawaii.

Do you:

A. Decide that the map must lead to proof that President Barack Obama is not American. Send investigators to Hawaii and see what they can dig up, and make sure to go on TV and talk about your suspicions nonstop. You should probably say that you're thinking of running for president too.

B. Assume that the treasure map is a hoax, or something Melania left out to remind you of vacation plans. Ignore it.

Everyone is talking about you. This is great! So tremendous. All this news coverage means that you are getting more attention than all the other possible GOP presidential candidates! Do you actually want to run for president?

A. Why not?

B. Heh, no. Tell everyone you would win if you did run, and that your poll numbers are tremendous.

Four years have gone by. You are still sitting at the top of a dark, gleaming tower, surrounded by photos of yourself, and you are still bored. Do you want to run for president this time?

A. Why not?

B. Heh, no. Tell everyone you would win if you did run, and that your poll numbers are tremendous.

C. Convince Texas to secede. Go become president there instead.

You descend from the top of your tower in a beautiful escalator and announce that you are running for president. People are waiting for you to give a speech.

Do you:

A. Have someone write you an inspirational speech. Keep it short and sweet.

B. Read aloud from The Art of the Deal.

C. Just get up there and start riffing. Maybe start your speech by talking about sweaty politicians. Say that most Mexican immigrants are rapists — but make sure you add that some are maybe OK. Give your long-winded analysis of the race you are about to enter. Talk about your golf courses. Mention how you want to help America's brand. Say the words, "I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created," and say China so many times that the people listening forget what the word means, like when you stare at a word too long and it suddenly looks alien. That should do it.

You're at the top of the polls! And everyone knows it, too, because you haven't stopped talking about it. Who cares if the stupid establishment doesn't like it when you say that John McCain isn't a real hero, or mentions that you don't have any concrete policy ideas. You're a winner. Look at all the people attending your rallies!

It's now time for the first debate. Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asks you some tough questions, which is a new experience for you. When you make the cable news rounds the following morning, how do you respond when CNN asks you how it felt to have to answer difficult questions, especially about your treatment of women?

A. Show that you have learned how to be politician by evading that question and answering another question.

B. Say that she was "not very tough and not very smart" and that "you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever.”

Really? We're going with B? What the hell does "wherever" mean? That can't be a good sign for your poll numbers -- let's see, let's see. Oh. They've gone up. A lot. And they keep going up and up and up. Maybe the person who edited this book made an error?

Anyway, it's now December, and a mass shooting just happened in California. The shooters pledged allegiance to ISIS before the attack. All of the presidential candidates are releasing statements -- what should you say? This is a tough one. I know you don't have much experience with tact, but it might come in handy here. I'm not supposed to give you pointers here, but I don't know, I'm just questioning your Choose Your Own Adventure judgment. Do you want to hit a dead end?

A. Offer your thoughts and prayers.

B. Make a generally vacuous statement about needing to fight ISIS, and note that President Obama is doing an awful job on this front.

C. Say that maybe we should ban all Muslims from traveling to the U.S.

OK. Sorry, but your campaign is done. Want to start ov-- … oh, nope. You're still there? Turns out that a majority of Republicans agree with you about the Muslim ban. You're still way ahead of everyone in the polls. Now, it's almost time for the primary to actually begin. Do you want to campaign in Iowa?

A. Not really.

B. Sure!

OK, this is the first thing that has made sense in this entire story. But now you just lost Iowa. How do you respond?

A. Look ahead to the next states and try to campaign better.

B. Talk about how you think Ted Cruz, who won Iowa, maybe isn't qualified to be president because he was born in Canada. More rallies, and more hats!

Who published this book? Is this a joke? You keep winning. But while voters keep giving you slim majorities, problems that have nothing to do with policy debates about the future of America keep popping up to interrupt your long reveries about poll numbers. (Maybe switch things up? I'm getting bored of being this book. The protagonist hasn't learned any lessons or grown as a character. Is this supposed to be a life lesson about how the world is cruel and unfair? This series is for kids!) At a rally in March, your campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, grabs a female reporter's arm so hard that it leaves marks. Another reporter sees him do it. Security footage shows that he did it. Lewandowski denies the incident. (He faced a misdemeanor battery charge, which was later dropped.) How will you respond?

A. Fire him.

B. Say, "I think it's a very, very sad day in this country when a man could be destroyed over something like that."

See, the problem with these Choose Your Adventure deals is that all of these bad decisions that you keep making don't compound to become a bigger problem, because the book has no idea about the second-to-last bad decision you made. Just the most recent one. And then the book is just going to forget that one as soon as we turn the page! Thankfully, the real world doesn't work this way, and this could never happen. I know you didn't start reading this to get the omniscient narrator's take on American electoral politics, but it gets lonely here, forced to relive the dozens of possible, alternate-universe ends of the Donald Trump campaign for the rest of time. Anyway, I'm sure that you're shocked to find out that supporting your campaign manager didn't hurt your chances. I also peeked ahead and guessed all of your answers for the rest of the book, and guess what! You're going to end up firing him in the end.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

But back to April. Your opponents keep dropping out. There are only three of you left. How do you want to fight the remaining opponents?

A. Start spending more money and running lots of attack ads against them.

B. Come up with mean nicknames.

I knew you were going to pick that one. I'm afraid to ask, but what are you going to call Ted Cruz?

A. Terrible Teddy

B. Lyin' Ted (Don't forget the apostrophe -- it's important)

C. Who's Cruz? (Get it, because his poll numbers are bad?)

Why is the apostrophe important? Never mind.

You made it! You are the only Republican candidate left. It will probably take a long time to figure out how exactly this happened -- whether the sheer number of GOP candidates made it impossible for a candidate with less name recognition to poke through, whether GOP voters were hungry for a candidate who spoke their worst thoughts out loud, or whether it was impossible for a non-populist with political experience to win in an environment when so many conservatives are so skeptical of the federal government -- but I can tell you, as someone who has read all the possible permutations of this book more times than Ted Cruz has read the Wikipedia entries listing '80s and '90s movie titles, that most of the answers you could have picked would have led to this point.

Anyway. Now that it looks as if you will be the Republican presidential candidate, do you want to start doing other campaign stuff, like fundraising and building up your state staff?

A. Not really.

B. That would probably be wise.

OK, let's forget campaigning. Time for more rallies!

Oh, but you just got a call from the RNC. They're worried about whether you are … presidential enough to beat Hillary Clinton, and are wondering if you could "pivot." And by "pivot," they mean stop acting like yourself. What say you?

A. Start letting people write speeches for you. Maybe mention specific policies a few times. Stop hugging flagpoles.

B. Start talking about how the federal judge in charge of the Trump University case is biased against you because he is Mexican, even though he was born in Indiana.

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

You chose A? Wow, OK, wasn't expecting that. Everyone in the Republican Party applauds how presidential you are acting, and starts talking about how maybe you could win this … wait, what are you doing? Are you turning the pages? You can't choose both answers. OK, so we're going with B now. This should go over well.

Despite the fact that you tweeted "I love Hispanics!" while eating a taco bowl last month, your attacks against Judge Gonzalo Curiel have been construed as racist and less than smart. The Hispanic media relations head at the RNC just quit. Eighty-seven percent of Hispanic voters have an unfavorable opinion of you. Eighty-eight percent of black voters don't like you. You yelled, "Look at my African-American over here," and pointed at a black man attending one of your rallies. A majority of women don't like you. Things don't look good.

Another mass shooting happened, this time in Orlando. Again, the shooter declared allegiance to ISIS. How do you want to respond?

A. Congratulate yourself for being "right" about radical Islam. Say, "People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on."

B. Say literally anything else.

Your favorite stimulant -- high poll numbers -- is starting to grow scarce. Remember how you said you didn't want to campaign like a traditional candidate? It's been a month, and we can start to see the effects of that decision. First, you only have 30 paid staffers doing organizing stuff around the country (although your campaign says that's going to change soon). Second, you only have $1.3 million in the bank. Hillary Clinton has more than $41 million. You haven't run any campaign ads since becoming the presumptive nominee. Despite your lack of funds, you spent more than $400,000 to rent space at Mar-a-Lago -- a building you own. Out of the nearly $7 million your campaign spent in May, more than $1 million went to your companies or family members. Everyone is starting to point out that you told Fortune in 2000, “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it."

Of course, you didn't just rent out Trump properties with that pitiful pile of money. You also bought hats.

What's next?

A. Give up. Let someone else win at the convention. This is only going to get worse.

B. Keep going. Things have worked out so far. Let's send our first fundraising email!

The same day that you sent your fundraising email, you tweeted, "I am the king of debt" — echoing a line that the Clinton campaign had used earlier, but insisting it was a positive characterization. You later wondered out loud if Obama and Clinton are Christian, proving that this entire story is in fact a circle that we will keep reliving until the end of the campaign.

But then your campaign announced that it raised $3 million in a single day. Your campaign continues.

This story will return in Choose Your Trump Campaign II: The GOP Hair Apparent. In this story, you, dear reader, will get to pick a vice-presidential candidate, give a convention speech, and finally learn to campaign (or not). Available at all places where Trump can be found, including CNN, Fox News, airplane hangars, and a Twitter feed near you.