Donald Trump won’t run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

“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. “Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.”

Trump’s decision brings to an end a political roller coaster ride on which the flamboyant celebrity pushed the debate over whether President Obama was born in the United States into the public eye, rose as high as second place in polling on the 2012 race and was on the receiving end of a fusillade of jokes from the president during last month’s White House Correspondents Dinner.

Trump’s hand was likely forced by NBC’s decision to renew the “Celebrity Apprentice” for another season. That meant that Trump had to choose between his interest in presidential politics and his career as a reality television star. He, not surprisingly, chose the latter.

Trump is the second candidate in three days to take a pass on the 2012 Republican presidential race. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced his decision not to run on his eponymous television show Saturday night. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to make a final decision on whether to run by the end of the month.

Trump has been here before. In 1999, Trump appeared to be an all-but-certain candidate for the Reform Party presidential nomination before bowing out. In 2008, Trump’s name was also floated as a potential candidate.

His flirtation with the race this time had all the indications of a publicity ploy rather than a serious endeavor — beginning with Trump’s decision to focus almost exclusively on the already-settled debate over Obama’s U.S. citizenship.

When Obama released his long form birth certificate last month, Trump — on a trip to the early primary state of New Hampshire — touted his victory; “I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish,” he said.

Even that self-proclaimed “success”, however, belied mounting evidence that whatever support the idea of a Trump candidacy had engendered had begun to fade. Polling suggested that vast swaths of the electorate did not think Trump had the right experience to be president or shared their values.

And, he was publicly flogged by President Obama and “Saturday Night Live” star Seth Meyers at last month’s White House Correspondents Dinner — a roasting that Trump took with a stony-faced glare even as the assembled crowd roared with laughter.

Amid that chaos, there was evidence that Trump was seriously considering a run. He huddled with a handful of well regarded campaign consultants — including pollster John McLaughlin — to discuss the prospect of running and had trips scheduled to South Carolina later this week and Iowa next month.

Trump’s decision not to run is likely to be greeted by a sigh of relief by most Republican party strategists who viewed Trump as a major distraction for the more serious contenders for the nomination.

Here is Trump’s full statement:

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!