Donald Trump speaks at the Comedy Central celebrity roast in his honor in… (Andrew H. Walker / Getty…)
Reporting from Washington and New York -- Donald Trump, whose public flirtation with a presidential run has overshadowed the early stages of the Republican primary race, announced Monday that he will not be a candidate in 2012.
Speaking at an event to announce NBC's fall network lineup in New York, Trump said he would continue hosting his reality show, "Celebrity Apprentice."
"I will not be running for president, as much as I'd like to," he said.
In a statement, Trump said the decision "does not come easily or without a regret," and said that he believes that had he run, he could have won.
"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," he said in the statement.
In his statement, Trump also thanked those who expressed support for his efforts, and promised to "continue to voice my opinions loudly and help to shape our politicians' thoughts."
The New York real estate titan began floating the notion of a presidential run just as the new season of his reality show was set to debut. In interviews, he eagerly plugged the show as he also offered his views on issues like the economy and foreign policy.
He even followed the traditional candidate playbook by visiting New Hampshire last month, and was set to headline a major Iowa Republican Party fundraising dinner in June.
But perhaps his main contribution to the public debate was his foray into the so-called "birther" debate, questioning whether President Obama was born in the United States. Trump said he dispatched a team of investigators to Hawaii to search for clues, and suggested that what they were discovering would surprise the public.
As he gained attention for that effort, public polling found him rapidly jumping ahead of Republican candidates both nationally and in key early states.
Obama ultimately chose to release his long-form birth certificate to prove his Hawaiian roots, alluding to Trump at a news conference as a "carnival barker" who was diverting the nation from more urgent issues.
Trump took credit for forcing Obama's hand, but the development seemed to rob him of any momentum there was for his candidacy. He found himself the butt of jokes at the annual White House correspondents dinner, where Obama himself mocked the "leadership qualities" Trump showed by firing washed-up celebrities on his show. The next day, the president announced that he had authorized a raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, leading to the killing the world's most-wanted terrorist.
If, as some suspected, Trump's supposed presidential aspirations were actually an attempt to goose ratings for his NBC series, the strategy may have backfired. According to data obtained by The Atlantic online, "Celebrity Apprentice" had one of the most liberal audiences on television, and viewership was declining as Trump's criticism of the president peaked.
Trump's announcement that he would put his television and business interests ahead of politics comes two days after Mike Huckabee announced on his Fox News Channel show that he, too, would not run. Trump actually made a cameo at the end of Huckabee's show to congratulate him for his decision.