The Donald, debunked
Wealthy businessman Donald Trump may be the hottest commodity not named Michele Bachmann thinking about running in the 2012 Republican presidential contest.
In a last-minute appearance at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington — widely regarded as an early 2012 cattle call -- Trump drew generally positive reviews for his speech and was, without question the buzziest “candidate” in attendance.
Then came a CNN poll last week that showed him receiving 10 percent in a 2012 primary ballot test, good for fifth place and ahead of people like former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
And finally came word that Trump will travel to Iowa in June to headline a state Republican party dinner.
Those three events have officially made Trump topic A for many political strategists and lots of other regular folks who have a passing interest in the election -- or reality television.
Working in Trump’s favor? His charisma, his significant personal wealth and near-universal name identification as a result of — among other things — his “Celebrity Apprentice” television show.
Working against him? Virtually everything else. After the jump we outline a few of the biggest reasons why all the Trump 2012 talk feels more like a publicity stunt than a serious political endeavor.
* Anathema in Iowa: Iowans are midwesterners, and midwesterners don’t take kindly to too much glitz and glamor. Trump is the definition of glitz and glamor — seriously, we looked it up — and it’s hard to imagine him connecting in any real way with voters in the first-in-the-nation caucuses. The Iowa candidacy of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008 is instructive for those who think Trump’s celebrity will trump — ahem — Iowans’ natural skepticism about celebrity candidates. Giuliani, who was a universally recognized figure for his role in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, made a few trips to Iowa but drew negative attention for the size of the entourage that traveled with him and his tendency to avoid scheduling events in which he waded into the general populace. He eventually finished a dismal sixth in the caucuses. Trump is the king of limousine travel and when a top aide came to the state to chat about the possibility of a presidential bid by his boss, he did so in a private jet. Will Trump’s visit to Iowa in June draw big crowds? Probably. But those are people interested in gawking at a celebrity, not voting for one. And if he can’t can traction in Iowa, it’s hard to see Trump as even remotely competitive in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
* Show me the money: Everyone knows Trump is rich. (If you don’t know, he’ll tell you.) He has said he would contribute as much as $600 million of his own money to the race, a massive sum that would break all past self-financing records. But, if he did decide to run, Trump’s wealth would not be a unalloyed positive for his campaign. Within 30 days of announcing his plan to run, Trump would have to file personal financial disclosure forms — detailing in relatively specific terms his various business interests and the extent of his personal wealth. Whether Trump would be willing to submit to that sort of public airing of his finances is an open question.What isn’t in doubt is that every one of his opponents would task an opposition researcher to dig through those records to find tidbits that could be mined in the context of a campaign. Anyone who has been in the business world for as long — and at such a high-profile perch — as Trump will have at least one or two deals that wouldn’t play very well in a 30-second television ad.
* Provocateur or policy-maven?: In his media appearances since making public his interest in a run for president, Trump has given little indication of what, exactly, he would be running on. His willingness to take on other candidates — of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Trump said “he just has zero chance of getting elected” — makes for great fodder for reporters. But, his recent rhetorical embrace of the idea that President Obama is not an American citizen seems born of a desire to provoke rather than any deeply-held stance. His CPAC speech, which amounts to the most extended window we’ve been given into how Trump thinks about politics and policy, was devoid of any real specifics — focusing instead on pledges not to raise taxes and “taking back hundreds of billions of dollars from other countries that are screwing us”. (In Trump’s defense, there were very few CPAC speeches from 2012 candidates that dwelled for more than a few minutes on policy.) And, don’t forget that in 1999 Trump formally registered with New York’s Independence Party as he weighed a run for president on the Reform Party line. He might have a hard time explaining that move to GOP caucus and primary voters.
*The downside of celebrity: Trump has been a national celebrity for a long time — and he’s lived like it.That he’s been married three times would be a major hurdle for some social conservative voters (and, yes, we know former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been married three times as well) but the bigger problem for Trump was epitomized in a recent celebrity roast of The Donald on Comedy Central. If you watched it for even five minutes, it’s pretty obvious that while Trump is a giant of pop culture he might struggle — and we mean really struggle — to translate that effectively into the political arena.