Donald Trump says he’s thinking about running for president. But of course, that’s what he said last time. And the time before that. And the time before that.
Whether to take him at his word this time, then, is debatable. But in multiple interviews since last fall, Trump, 64, has publicly voiced his interest in seeking the 2012 Republican nomination.
Forget the fact that the real-estate mogul and television celebrity talked about running in 1988, 2000 and 2008. Forget that in 2000 he formed an exploratory committee and jetted around the country giving political speeches.
In 2012, “For the first time in my life, I am absolutely thinking about it,” he said on MSNBC in October.
It seems every time there’s been no incumbent on the ballot, Trump has seen fit to toss his name into the mix. But now, he would have you believe that he has never been more concerned with America’s plight.
“I see what’s going on with this country and it’s never been worse,” he told Fox News.
The conservative news site Newsmax reported that he is “telling friends he has decided he will definitely run.”
Trump, through a publicist, declined a request for an interview. Roger Stone, the infamous New York GOP consultant who has represented Trump’s political interests for more than two decades, said he has spoken to Trump about it and “he tells me he’s more serious than he’s ever been.”
In October, a mysterious poll of New Hampshire Republicans included some 30 questions testing Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate, Time reported. Trump said he was not behind it; neither the poll’s sponsor nor its results was ever revealed.
“I didn’t take this poll, I didn’t pay for this poll, but I hear the results are amazing,” Trump said on Fox. Stone declined to comment on whether he knew who was behind the poll.
Michael Cohen, proprietor of the draft-Trump website ShouldTrumpRun.com, says a Trump campaign would be met by a groundswell of popular support.
When ordinary Americans look at Trump, they don’t see a blustering loudmouth, or the central character in a reality show about scheming overachievers.
No, Cohen says, “They see a leader. And that’s something we don’t have right now.”
Cohen happens to be on The Donald’s payroll. He’s an executive vice president at the Trump Organization and “special counsel” to Trump. But he claims he started the site without telling his boss, just because he admires the man so much.
“I am, like so many people, truly hoping Mr. Trump elects to run for president,” Cohen told POLITICO. “I have the honor of working for the Trump Organization and knowing Mr. Trump as an individual. He would make a first-rate president. He would change the playing field as far as where America stands in this global economy.”
Since its launch in November, Cohen says the site has received more than 250,000 visitors and “tens of thousands” of signups. Nearly 30,000 voted in an online poll, saying by 2-to-1 margins that Trump should run and that they would vote for him.
“Donald Trump, please run, we actually need you now, someone to save this great nation, or I guess we’ll all have to learn how to speak Chinese and get used to a lot of changes in our lifestyles,” reads one comment on the site’s “Your Voices” section.
Trump’s China-bashing is a major plank in his potential platform. After the recent state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, he called in to “Fox and Friends” to rant, “You don’t give dinners to the enemy, and that’s what they’re doing.” Another frequent target is OPEC.
Trump’s most serious presidential endeavor to date was in 2000, when he formed an exploratory committee and made a run at the nomination of the Reform Party, with the blessing of Jesse Ventura and Ross Perot.
Campaign activities included lavish parties and accusing fellow Reform contender Pat Buchanan of “having a love affair with Adolph Hitler.” His bid attracted its share of detractors: A classic account in the Weekly Standard was headlined, “A Chump on the Stump: Donald Trump Pretends to Run for President.”
Trump now downplays that episode, saying he was never all that interested. Stone, his consultant, says Trump is clearly better positioned now than he was then, and the wide-open 2012 GOP field presents a better opportunity than a third-party quest.
Unlike in 2000, when Melania Knauss was his supermodel girlfriend, Trump now is a happily married father and soon-to-be grandfather, Stone noted. “He’s a lot more stable presence now that he was in those days,” Stone said.
After 10 seasons as host of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” Trump is also more famous. “Above all, he’s a patriot who is tired of seeing the country get the crap kicked out of it and get laughed at around the globe.”
Trump, however, doesn’t exactly fit the Republican mold: He wants to pull out of Afghanistan, he’s pro-choice, his shameless New York billionaire-playboy lifestyle will be hard to explain to social conservatives and he’s donated copiously to Democrats, including $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago mayoral campaign.
And he’s hardly a man of the people, with his distaste for handshaking—he is something of a germophobe—and his life of luxury. Forbes magazine puts Trump in a six-way tie for 153rd-richest American, with an estimated worth of $2.4 billion.
Despite these potential drawbacks, Stone believes America is ready for a larger-than-life, multiply married, multiply bankrupt, lavishly attired real-estate mogul, casino developer, beauty-pageant owner and reality-television star as its next Republican president.
“Trump would be a giant in a field of pygmies,” Stone said. “Donald Trump; Tim Pawlenty. Which one have you never heard of?”
The political establishment is skeptical about Trump’s intentions, to say the least.
“Donald Trump is the king of personal marketing, and saying he’s thinking about running for president is a great way to get his name in everyone’s mind,” said GOP consultant Ron Bonjean. “It seems unlikely that he would actually run. He has a number of political weaknesses that would make it difficult to survive the nominating process.”
Trump’s fellow New Yorker Ari Fleischer, the former George W. Bush press secretary, said Trump’s gruff, flashy persona would be a “tough sell” in the heartland.
“When you’re the king of a corporation, you think it’s a pretty straight line: Anybody can do it, just look at how poorly these people in Washington do it, I know I can do it better,” Fleischer said. But from Ross Perot to Steve Forbes, they inevitably get a rude — and expensive — awakening to the realities of politics.
Fleischer, who is bald, admitted some envy for Trump’s distinctive hairstyle.
To Stone, those who would dismiss Trump’s ambitions are simply out of touch with the millions of Americans who watch “The Apprentice” (an audience in steady decline), who love the Miss USA contest, who stand in awe of the gleaming buildings emblazoned with his name, who rooted for him in his feud with Rosie O’Donnell.
“Elites don’t take him seriously, perhaps because they don’t see him in a political context,” Stone said. “He’s not viewed as a politician. He’s viewed as probably the most successful businessman in the country.”
A November automated national poll commissioned by Newsmax and conducted by SurveyUSA found that in a hypothetical general-election matchup, Trump would get 47 percent of the vote, including 50 percent of independents, to President Barack Obama’s 53 percent.
A Newsmax correspondent was moved to tout Trump’s prospects after spending a weekend as Trump’s guest at the mogul’s lavish Mar-a-Lago estate and golf club. Trump, he noted admiringly, has fought the government of Palm Beach, Fla., for the right to fly an enormous American flag over the property.
A Trump campaign would not be a typical political operation, Stone said. “I don’t think he could run a conventional campaign, with the trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and so on,” he said. “All that would do is lower him to the same level as the other vote-grubbing politicians.”
Trump would be willing to put more than $200 million of his own money into the campaign, he has said. He says he will make an announcement about whether he’s going to run by June, after the upcoming season of “Celebrity Apprentice” ends.
Cohen, the Trump website creator, says he has trips planned over the coming months to Washington, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to put a grassroots network in place for Trump. His partners in the effort are businessman and friend-of-Trump Stewart Rahr and New York lobbyist-consultants Brad Gerstman and David Schwartz.
“At this moment, we have begun to speak with some very serious players in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and the Carolinas in anticipation and optimism that Mr. Trump will, in June, when he announces his intention, that it will be favorable,” Cohen said. “My goal is to have these people lined up so that from the very day Mr. Trump makes that announcement we go straight to work.”