Donald Trump holds court with GOP primary contenders

at 12:41 PM ET, 10/03/2011

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain is visiting Donald Trump in New York City on Monday. He is just the latest 2012 Republican presidential contender to meet with the mogul.

Trump famously took former Alaska governor Sarah Palin to Famiglia’s in Times Square this summer. But what seemed at the time a publicity stunt for two reality TV stars was actually the start of a trend. Texas Gov. Rick Perry , Rep. Michele Bachmann , and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have all met with Trump.

Why are all these real candidates kissing Trump’s ring?

Trump polls badly. He’s not known as a good fundraiser. But he is on television constantly, and consultants argue that anyone that ubiquitous should be courted a little. Like most things, Trump’s power is the media’s fault.

“However anyone thinks about him, he’s an influential person,” said Bob Honold of Revolution, a Republican consulting firm. “Anyone covered that much is worthwhile to have a discussion with.”

Meeting with Trump is a way to avoid a potentially powerful enemy, one with a big soapbox and no fear of harsh language. And Trump seems willing to dish out kind words for any candidate who takes the time to see him.

Trump also knows plenty of wealthy people, and he could be a helpful money-raiser if so moved.

When he was flirting with a presidential bid, Trump frequently took shots at Romney. After meeting with the former Massachusetts governor last week, Trump said “I’m liking his strength on China.” (Romney called Trump “delightful” and “colorful.”)
In this Feb. 10, 2011 file photo, Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. (Alex Brandon - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Trump declared himself “impressed with “Jim Perry” (close enough?) He called Bachmann “highly underrated.” Cain, he said in advance of today’s meeting, should be “very proud of himself.”

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman , on the other hand, dismissed the Trump primary. In response, Trump argued that the former U.S. ambassador to China was not a viable candidate: “The fact that he worked for Obama and that China cleaned our clock during his tenure make it very, very difficult.” (He also claimed that Huntsman had reached out to him and been rebuffed.)

Others argue that Trump still has a constituency of sorts, or he wouldn’t have “The Apprentice,” the reality TV show over which Trump presides in which he gruffly fires losers and selects a new leader for his business empire.

“He’s a rich guy, but he’s perceived as someone who can relate very well to middle-income people,” said New York Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “It’s all part of the culture of celebrity and entertainment — it’s a way to publicize yourself in a blue-collar kind of way.”

Trump also gives off an air of success.

“There may be others who are worth significantly more or lead bigger corporations, but Donald Trump through his TV show, branded properties and many successes is probably the best known business leader in America,” said Republican pollster John McLaughlin, who has worked for Trump in the past. “So Republican candidates who are looking for the outsider business image get that instantly by meeting Trump.“

Despite crowing from the Trump camp that every candidate is seeking not just a meeting but an endorsement, consultants say that no one wants Trump on his or her team. He’s too volatile to serve as an effective surrogate, and a recent Fox News poll suggests Trump’s endorsement would cost a candidate votes.

But the same qualities that make Trump dangerous are what keep him in the news, and it might be worth a day in New York to prevent a fight with The Donald.

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