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What Trump can teach the GOP field

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Donald Trump won’t run for president in 2012. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Wealthy businessman Donald Trump’s Icarus-like rise and fall in the 2012 presidential race is likely to wind up as no more than a footnote in the story of this election.

But, that doesn’t mean the Trump saga — and, it was a saga — is without lessons to be learned by the Republican candidates who will run for president in 2012.

The most important lesson? Confrontation is good. Confrontation works.

“Donald Trump was an anti-establishment figure who demonstrated the importance of taking the debate right to Obama — frontally and hard, which the the eventual GOP nominee mist do daily to win,” said Scott Reed, a senior Republican strategist.

Polling bears this sentiment out.

A CNN/Opinion Research survey conducted earlier this month found that 67 percent of respondents said Trump was “not a typical politician” and 57 percent said he was “tough enough to handle a crisis”.

(Trump scored far worse on most other character measures; just one in three said he “is honest and trustworthy” and one in four said he “shares your values”.)

Rob Stutzman, a California-based GOP strategist, noted that while most of the Trump coverage focused on his celebrity and embrace of birtherism as an issue, it was the Donald’s come-out-swinging mentality that was the true root of his rise.

“He had the appeal of a candidate who would brawl with Obama on behalf of the rank and file and create contrast,” said Stutzman.

The simple truth is that Republican primary voters appear to be clamoring for someone who can articulate the deep dissatisfaction they feel toward Obama on nearly every issue.

That fight-on-all-fronts mentality is why former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has found himself hurt by his support for a health care law in the Bay State that has drawn unfavorable comparisons to the national law. It’s why former Utah governor Jon Huntsman’s service as Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration is viewed as a non-starter by many voters. It’s why former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has apologized for backing cap and trade legislation during his tenure in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Any sign of agreement — or even the willingness to think about agreeing — with the President is viewed as capitulation within some not-insignificant element of the Republican party, many of whom identify closely with the tea party movement.

“The birther issue was stupid and contrived but it should demonstrate to legitimate candidates that you can stand out by being the candidate who engages Obama on substance like taxes, homeland security and spending,” explained Stutzman.

Put another way: Trump’s willingness to fight mattered more than the substance of what triggered the fight.

No one in the current field will overtly try to pick up the Trump mantle .. But, listen to see whether strains of Trump’s confrontational style seep into the candidates’ rhetoric over the coming weeks and months.

The next GOP debate, which is scheduled for June 13 in New Hampshire, will be a major test of just how far the top-tier Republicans are willing to channel the tone — if not the substance — of Trump.

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