Donald Trump, and what it means to get serious


Donald Trump says he’s serious about considering a 2012 presidential run. (JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)

Who knows whether or not Donald Trump’s flirtations with a White House run are real. After all, the publicity-loving reality TV show star launched his most recent foray into politics by wading into the ridiculous birther debate, a sure-fire media attention grabber that even Michelle Bachmann is backing away from. He is “as serious as a heart attack,” according to one pollster, but told NBC’s Today Show that he will make up his mind by June, at the latest--the same time other candidates are making formal announcements. And the last time he “campaigned” for president, in 2000, he called for a universal health care system that looked like Canada’s, pro-choice rights for women and a proposal for a one-time 14.25 percent tax on wealthy Americans. A real GOP stalwart, that Trump. 

But while pundits and some in the Republican establishment are falling all over themselves to call him a joke or a distraction, others are apparently embracing the idea. An Associated Press story Tuesday reported about Republican officials and activists who, while stopping short of saying Trump could be nominated, “said their party is hungry for forceful, colorful figures to attack Obama and other Democrats on health care, spending and other issues.”

To wit, here’s a quote from the story from Glenn McCall, Republican Party chairman in South Carolina’s York County: “I hear more and more people talking about Donald Trump. He’s got people fired up.” Or Trudy Caviness, the GOP chairwoman in Iowa's Wapello County: “He is causing conversations,” she told the AP, and “is saying on the national stage what other people won't talk about.” The story quotes Kathy Pearson, a longtime party activist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who calls Trump “obviously a successful businessman” and Cindy Costa, South Carolina's Republican National Committeewoman, who says she’s “been pleasantly surprised” by Trump. “He’s actually more conservative than I had thought.”

So if we listen to these activists, then someone who is outspoken, fires people up and has a business background exhibits key leadership qualities. If everybody’s talking about him, the logic seems to go, there must be something to the guy. And if he’s willing to attack Obama and the Democrats, all the better.

It’s not without some queasiness that I choose to write about The Donald. (“I think I am presidential,” he told the WSJ.) Even if he’s doing well in the polls, it’s disturbing to think that a man known more for his hair than any policies or ideas has probably gotten more press coverage this week than the war in Libya or the nuclear disaster in Japan—much less candidates who have formally declared exploratory committees.

But it was too hard to ignore the reasons behind these local GOP leaders’ “embrace” of “Candidate Trump: The Sequel.” It’s one thing for a reality TV star to lob publicity bombs and flirt with presidential aspirations. This is America, after all. But it’s quite another for local party leaders to lend support to someone because he’s so colorful and forceful. These are serious times in this country, and we not only need serious people leading it, but serious reasons for embracing anyone even contemplating a presidential run.

More from On Leadership:

The debt ceiling: When it’s time to break a promise

When business experience isn’t the holy grail for conservative candidates

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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