Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You’re Hired: Trump for President?

“You can make the transition, but it is a hard transition to make,” said Schultz, who added that he doesn’t think Trump is seriously considering a run. “It might work in a political atmosphere where people don't want traditional candidate -- if he can carve a message and convince voters he is a viable candidate.”
----David Schultz, Fox 9 News, April 19, 2011

Donald Trump for president?! Rising popularity for Trump among many in the GOP (as evidenced by recent Iowa and other polls) and speeches by him to the Tea Party fuel speculation that he is running for president. Moreover, his pandering to the right by joining the birther movement all point to the belief he is a serious candidate for president. This was the subject of a April 19, 2011 Fox 9 news story in which I was interviewed. Follow this link to the video and story.

Republican activist and former Lt. Governor Annette Meeks dismissed Trump’s candidacy as a joke, and many voters in Minneapolis when ask, also questioned his viability. Some thought that he was a reality show celeb but that did not qualify him for the presidency. Others thought his businessman status might make him qualified. All this is grist for good debate.

The core questions are: 1) Is Trump a viable candidate and 2) Is he going to run?

The Case for Trump
Trump brings to the presidential table many assets and equally as many liabilities. The four biggest assets are his name recognition, personal wealth, his business experience, and the aura of the unknown. In terms of name recognition, everyone knows the Trump name even if they do not know who he is. Some many say reality show star, others that he is a businessman. It does not matter. He has name recognition and in the world of politics that counts for a ton. Ask Tim Pawlenty about this, as he travels the country and people say “Tim Who?”

Being a rock star or a politainer (politician and entertainer combined) is a major boast to success in politics. It gives you a buzz and a heads up on other candidates. It shows your ability to market yourself, establish a political brand, attract media attention, and to perform many of the functions critical to success in contemporary politics. Trump has already demonstrated these skills, suggesting they can be transferred to politics.

Name recognition will be critical in 2012. Everyone knows Obama. He too is a rock star and it is hard to beat an incumbent president. Trump’s advantage is a media presence that is greater than anyone else on the GOP side. This gives him a head start against Obama.

Second, Trump is wealthy. Obama plans to raise $1 billion for his reelection. It will be nearly impossible for any Republican to rival this. However a self-financed candidate such as Trump might be able to counter the Obama money. Thus, Trump has a money advantage.

Third, Trump is a businessman. The GOP and the electorate like the idea of a businessperson running for president, even if in reality they do not elect such people. Ask Mitt Romney. Trump can claim to be a Ross Perot type candidate, bringing business sense and decisiveness to government. Think of all the people he will say “You’re fired” to if elected. Many find this attractive.

Finally, there is the aura of the unknown. No one really knows what Trump believes and they glom on to him what they hope and believe.

Trump thus has many assets. At a time when the GOP is searching for a viable candidate and there is no hands down leader, Trump has a window.

But some argue he is merely a reality show star, how can anyone take him seriously? Jesse Ventura was no better than a wrestler and B-movie star and Arnold was an actor yet both made the transition to the governorships. In an atmosphere where people do not like government and traditional politicians, Jesse and Arnold emerged. The same might be true for Donald and that is perhaps why he is attractive to the TEA Party folks.

Trump’s Lumps
But Trump has liabilities. He has high name recognition but also high negatives. Many people just do not like him. He is arrogant, bossy, loud, and obnoxious. He is not likeable. Likeability (sic) is a critical factor when people vote for president. John Kerry learned this when he challenged Bush in 2004–voters personally liked Bush more.

Trump also has the seriousness problem. Yes he is a reality show star who can leverage that brand politically. But he needs to make that transition. He needs to convince people he is real candidate and not simply a joke. He can do it, but the high negatives he has (or I am sure he has) suggests a different road for him versus Jesse or Arnold who did not have the same high negatives when they began their campaigns.

Many also do not trust Trump. Fox 9 reported that he gave millions to the Democrats. How will that be viewed among many GOP faithful. There is the allure of the unknown but also the fear that he cannot be trusted to hew a political line. Sure this is an asset for many, but for others a fear of unpredictability. There is also the fear that his bluntness will alienate many voters. In part, this is where Ms. Meeks is coming from.

Finally, Trump the person is a problem. He has filed for bankruptcy a couple of times, he personal life has divorces in it, and there is no sense that he follows an orthodoxy on social issues such as abortion or gay marriage. These are all problems for many GOP, and in many circles, for swing voters.

In short, Donald Trump is out there, but out there are many things that can be attacked and it is not clear in a debate how well he will come off beyond being an obnoxious New Yorker.

But will he run?
No. Trump is not really going to run. He is a genius of self-promotion and branding. Were he to run his television show is off the air due to the equal time doctrine. His candidacy will risk his business brand and Trump will not take a chance to hurt that brand. Instead, as I said to Fox 9, he will flirt with running for months to enhance his brand and then decide not to do it. In the process, he will be a distraction to the GOP in their search for a viable and real candidate, thereby hurting their efforts to unite behind someone to take on Obama. Trump will steal the headlines away from the other candidates and divert attention from the case against Obama. This is also what Ms. Meeks fears. The Democrats must be loving this.


  1. If your a Birther, your an idiot. Its that simple. There are plenty of reasons to not reelect Barack Obama but his birth certificate isn't one. If anything, Mr. Trump kind of highlights the weakness of the potential Republican field. At least until Governor Daniels dips his toe into the fray.

  2. Rudy:

    I tend to agree. The Birther debate is stupid and at least Bachmann has figured this out. Otherwise, Obama is vulnerable and so far the GOP field is weak.