Does Donald Trump matter?

at 06:30 AM ET, 12/07/2011

Donald Trump has an uncanny knack for inserting himself into the center of the 2012 Republican race.


Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich listens at right as Donald Trump talks to media after a meeting in New York, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
First it was as a potential candidate and the leading voice of the discredited birther movement. Then it was as a must-stop for Republican presidential candidates, with frontrunner du jour Newt Gingrich being the most recent aspirant to kiss the ring. Trump’s latest iteration is as debate moderator in a Newsmax-sponsored forum in Iowa on Dec. 27.

Trump’s remarkably high profile in the GOP race raises an intriguing question: Does the association with Trump hurt the Republican Party brand?

Opinions vary on that question, although almost no one in the Republican professional political class thinks Trump’s recent centrality to the GOP primary fight is a good thing.

“For three and a half years, a lot of people who should have known better have been complicit in kowtowing to a Republican wack pack of which Trump is a leading member,” said Steve Schmidt, who managed the presidential campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCai n in 2008. “The result is a diminished Republican brand that appears unhealthy to millions of Americans who are looking for an alternative to the status quo.”

Ari Fleischer, press secretary in the Bush White House, was less pessimistic about the long-term implications for his party of a connection to Trump, but acknowledged that the association isn’t a good one.

“Once we have a nominee, Trump will likely be just a memory, but until then, it’s important for Republicans to be serious and dignified,” said Fleischer. “A Trump-moderated debate would be the opposite of serious and dignified.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney seems to agree, having announced on Tuesday that he will take a pass on the Trump debate. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Rep. Ron Paul have also said “no.” Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is on the fence about participating. Gingrich and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum are committed to the debate.

There seems to be little political gain for Republican candidates to allow Trump too big a microphone. While there is very little recent polling about The Donald, the data that is out there suggests he is deeply unpopular with the general electorate.

An Associated Press poll in May showed that 65 percent of people viewed Trump unfavorably; a late March Gallup survey showed that 47 percent of people viewed Trump unfavorably, while 43 percent viewed him in a favorable light.

In spite of those numbers, John McLaughlin, a New York-based pollster who huddled with Trump about the possibility of a presidential bid earlier this year, insisted that he “adds to the GOP brand greatly,” adding: “For so successful a business leader to get such popular support from middle class and working people is amazing.”

Maybe. But the appeal of Trump’s economic populism seems largely overshadowed by his over-the-top tendencies; everything that he touches turns into a circus.

And for a party trying to present itself as a credible alternative to President Obama, spending any time engaged in a dialogue with someone whose claim to fame is the catch phrase “You’re fired!” seems like a strategic mistake.

“Just when it looks like the primary might actually turn into something fit for C-SPAN, Trump comes back with a healthy dose of ‘Jersey Shore,’” joked one senior Republican strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly.

Iowa poll shows Gingrich up big, non-Romney candidates gaining: Yet another poll of Iowa caucus-goers shows Gingrich with a big lead. But perhaps more interestingly, it shows other candidates not named Mitt Romney gaining after Herman Cain’s exit.

The CBS News poll shows Gingrich leading Romney 31 percent to 17 percent, with Paul at 16 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 11 percent and Bachmann at 9 percent.

Bachmann in particular appears to be showing new signs of life in what amounts to a make-or-break state for her.

DSCC getting choosy in primaries: Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) all-but-endorsed candidates in three primaries during a press conference Tuesday.

Murray made it clear that she favors — at least personally — Reps. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in their respective primaries.

The DSCC has made little secret of its preference in Hawaii, where Hirono faces former congressman Ed Case.

“I’m supporting Mazie Hirono and I believe she’s going to win,” Murray said.

Things are a little dicier when it comes to Heinrich and Murphy, though, as they face a Latino opponent and a female opponent, respectively. Heinrich is running against state Auditor Hector Balderas, while Murphy faces former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz.

“When we go out and talk to people in states, we look at who is the strongest candidate, who can win, who has the kind of support,” Murray said. “And in (Connecticut), Chris Murphy is just a great candidate, and I expect him to win.”

Fixbits:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says, when it comes to Gingrich, the good comes with the bad.

Gingrich camp declines to respond directly to Paul’s hard-hitting attack ad in Iowa. Meanwhile, Paul’s team reportedly only put $24,000 behind the ad.

Cain will reportedly be on Howard Stern’s show this morning.

Trump reacts to Romney’s decision not to appear at his debate.

Perry’s team has bought $1 million worth of ad time over the final three weeks in Iowa.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) is up with his first ad in the state’s Senate race, hitting Sen. Ben Nelson (D) for his vote for Obama’s health care bill and the “Cornhusker Kickback.” No word on how much is being spent on the ad.

It’s an early Senate debate in Virginia today, with former senator George Allen and former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine (D) facing off today at 1:30. For more, see our local politics team’s preview, and you can watch the debate on the Richmond Times-Dispatch website.

Congressional redistricting bills won’t be released today in Pennsylvania, despite indications to the contrary.

Must-reads:

Gingrich fighting massive debt racked up in campaign’s extravagant early days” — Dan Eggen, Washington Post

Panic pushes Mitt Romney reboot” — Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman and Reid. J. Epstein, Politico

Read more on PostPolitics.com

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