If someone takes the time to launch a political hit, it’s typically a sign that you are gaining traction. And so, this morning has actually been a very good one for celebritician (celebrity/politician) Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump for President?” asked Club for Growth president Chris Chocola. “You have got to be kidding.” Added Chocola: “This publicity stunt will sputter and disappear just as quickly as ‘The Apprentice’ is losing viewers.” Zing!
The Club’s shot-across-the-brow (eh?) is the latest sign of some elements of the party rallying to block Trump’s ascendance, which has been as fast as its has been shocking. The Club joins the likes of Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) in questioning Trump’s seriousness.
And yet, among his potential 2012 rivals, nary a negative word has been uttered about The Donald.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty called Trump “talented” and “funny” while former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee described him as a “very serious candidate” after a meeting with him.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney described Trump as a ”new face and a new voice in the process” and urged him to “come on in, the water’s fine.”
(Trump was slightly less charitable when CNN’s Candy Crowley asked him about Romney; “I’m a much bigger business man and have [a] much, much bigger net worth,” Trump told Crowley.)
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, while not dismissive of the Trump rise, did seek to explain it in political terms. “For some voters, it may have just been that, pure and simple, I’ve heard of Donald Trump, nobody else I’ve heard of I want to be for,” said Barbour.
(It’s worth noting that several of the candidates — including Pawlenty and Romney — have urged Trump to drop the the birther issue.)
All of that friendliness comes amid two national polls in the last two weeks that show Trump at or near the top of the 2012 heap — a testament to his universal name identification and the growing sense that the average GOP voter is not thrilled with his (or her) current options in the field.
Trump is currently in the midst of a Charlie Sheen-like media blitz, appearing on CNN and ABC’s “Good Morning America” in just the last few days.
And, according to a report from Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Ben Smith, Trump has begun outreach to campaign consultants — a sign of his seriousness.
The decision to play nice with Trump to date almost certainly stems from a belief among the 2012 field that he is not likely to run and, if he does, they don’t want to make such a deep-pocketed enemy.
But does Trump’s rapid rise mean a strategic change of course in dealing with him is necessary?
No, said Mike Murphy, a senior Republican consultant not involved in the 2012 contest. “Be gently dismissive,” Murphy counseled. “Treat [him] as an entertainer, not a serious candidate.”
Mike Duhaime, who managed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, argued that the best way to deal with Trump is to simply ignore him.
“Candidates should not allow their game plans to be dictated by a candidate who likely won’t run,” said Duhaime. “Candidates cannot control who else will get in and who will not, so at this stage of the race, candidates need to worry about their own metrics, not anyone else’s.”
With Trump of course, taking that advice is easier said than done — as he has shown a willingness to go directly at his opponents’ perceived weaknesses with no regard for political niceties.
And, ignoring Trump goes against the traditional political calculus of letting no negative attack go unanswered.
Even so, it’s the right approach argued Republican strategist Brian Jones. “What do you get by going after him other than a black eye because he has nothing to lose and doesn’t play by the traditional rules of the game,” he asked.
The best case scenario for 2012 candidates not named Trump is that he loses interest in the race or that people lose interest in him. If he can maintain his current level of support for the next three months, the field may be forced to re-examine its “killing him with kindness” strategy.