Donald Trump: from 'The Apprentice' to US president?
Real estate tycoon and reality TV star Donald Trump has emerged as the most visible and vocal potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination. But is he serious about running – and would he make a viable candidate?
With US presidential elections still a year and a half away, pundits, politicians and voters are eagerly waiting to see which Republicans will try their luck at ejecting President Barack Obama from the White House.
Many right-wing figures seem poised to announce a bid for their party’s nomination, including former governors Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty; Tea Party favourite and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann; and former Alaska governor and onetime vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
But recent polls reveal that Donald Trump, the man nicknamed “the Donald” and often ridiculed for his comb-over hairstyle, is enjoying an enviable position in the pool of Republicans eyeing a bid for the nomination. A CNN survey of Republican voters showed Trump tied for the lead with Mike Huckabee at 19 percent each. A Public Policy Polling survey had Trump on top with 26 percent, ahead of Huckabee’s 17 percent.
Trump, who has yet to announce a decision to run, is a well-known US personality -- recognised as much for his extravagant hotels and residential towers as for his hit reality TV show “The Apprentice”, on which contestants compete for a job in one of Trump's businesses. According to John Fortier, a political scientist at the non-profit Bipartisan Policy Center, “Trump’s main asset today is his name recognition”.
Others have identified Trump as emblematic of a kind of life story and persona that fascinates Americans. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote on Monday that, for many in the United States, “Donald Trump is the living, walking personification of the Gospel of Success”, someone who is “riding a deep public fantasy: The hunger for the ultimate blowhard who can lead us through dark times”.
Not content to coast on bravado and corporate experience alone, however, Trump has attempted to bolster his political credentials lately, making the rounds of TV interviews to chat about reducing US debt, curbing oil dependency and reframing relations with China. He even engaged in a bit of rival-bashing, telling CNN: “I'm a much bigger businessman [than Mitt Romney] and have a much, much bigger net worth.”
But his main talking point so far has been claiming that President Obama was not born on US territory and is therefore constitutionally disqualified from the presidency, despite official records showing that Obama was born in the US state of Hawaii. Trump’s strong poll numbers suggest that with his unapologetic questioning of the president’s legitimacy, the tycoon has tapped into anti-Obama sentiment simmering among the right wing.
Potential rival Palin has even praised Trump for his outspoken approach, telling Fox News that she and other Republicans "appreciate that Donald Trump is so candid” in criticising Obama.
'Trump for President? You’ve got to be joking'
Many liberal pundits see Trump’s appearances differently, accusing him of having commercial motives that have nothing to do with moving into the White House. “He's not a serious candidate for the presidency, and he's saying crazy things about Obama to boost ratings for his reality TV show,” said Ari Berman, an author and political correspondent for The Nation, a left-wing magazine.
Similar scepticism has been expressed by Republican insiders themselves. A onetime adviser to former president George W. Bush, Karl Rove, has called Trump “a joke candidate”. The Club for Growth, an organisation that promotes small government and low taxes, released the following statement: “Trump for President? You’ve got to be joking ... Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge of how to create jobs.”
That assessment brings to light one challenge that Trump will face if he ends up running for the Republican nomination: getting right-leaning voters to accept what political scientist Fortier calls his “eclectic mix of past policy positions”. Trump, who is from New York City, has in the past voiced moderate views on abortion and gay rights, even saying in 2002 that he favoured a “strong domestic partnership law” for homosexuals – a position that directly contradicts the traditional Republican platform.
Moreover, if Trump were to compete seriously for the nomination, his rivals would likely go over his professional past with a fine-toothed comb, finding an uneven entrepreneurial record: along with his many lucrative successes, Trump has declared bankruptcy four times.
But according to Fortier, Trump’s biggest weakness when compared to other Republican hopefuls is the most obvious: he has no background in government. “We have a fascination with figures who have no political experience," including generals and business people, Fortier said. “But they rarely win.”
One person who may secretly wish for Trump to be the Republican nominee is none other than Obama. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll found that in a general election, the media mogul would win just 34 percent of the vote, to 49 percent for the sitting president.