From real estate magnate and best-selling self-help business-writer in the '80s to real-estate magnate and reality series star in the Oh-Ohs, Donald Trump has refused to recognize the expiration date on his 15-Minutes-of-Fame milk carton. Even a pretty mediocre second edition of "Celebrity Apprentice" couldn't quite eclipse The Donald's personal incandescence.
And, as it has in his past, his talent for picking the ladies managed to enhance his own profile. Sunday's "Apprentice" finale came down to 75-year old potty-mouthed QVC jewelry-hawker Joan Rivers and 40-something professional poker player Annie Duke. Last year, in the first "CA," Trump selected British reality icon Piers Morgan over country-singer Trace Adkins -- primarily because of Morgan's superior money-raising skill on the charity-supporting show.
This year, Duke was the clear front-runner in terms of money raised, but Trump selected Rivers based on other less-quantifiable criteria -- including that she brought the most "energy" to the show. Part of that energy was trashing Duke at every opportunity -- including famously calling her "worse than Hitler." But, Trump's instincts were probably correct. While Duke was ruthless in playing the game, Rivers is/was by far the more self-promoting person -- and she can be counted on to promote her winning the show, thus promoting Trump in the process. Duke would take her charity's winnings, go home and be barely heard from again, except within her own poker-playing community.
But ever on the lookout for the self-promoters -- even the relatively amateurish -- Trump then spun around to determine, Solomon-like, the fate of the controversial Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean. Her guileless honesty in answering a question on gay marriage probably cost her the Miss USA title three weeks ago. And youthful foolishness with regard to topless photos imperiled her keeping her Miss California crown. Trump bought the Miss USA pageant a few years ago, so he had the ultimate power to determine what should happen to Prejean -- suddenly thrust in the middle of the culture wars because of her belief in "opposite marriage" and getting trashed by pageant judge Perez Hilton.
Conservatives were positive that the organizers of the California pageant -- embarrassed over her views -- wanted to strip her of her crown. In fact, the Vanessa Williams incident a quarter century ago showed there is a precedent for a beauty queen losing her crown because of racy photos.
But Trump the wise overseer, tore through the cant on both sides. The Donald didn't give Prejean a "You're fired!" moment. Instead, he reminded everyone that she had the same views on gay marriage as, well, Barack Obama -- and, hey, kids, the president is cool! He dismissed the topless pics with a casual, "we are in the 21st century." In so doing, he put both the PC left and the faux-prudish pageant organizers in their place and, probably for the first time, Donald Trump became a mild hero to the religious right (who have adopted Carrie Prejean as something of a spokeswoman). Only in America could the thrice-married Trump become an odd defender of traditional marriage!
And why wouldn't Trump keep Prejean? Like Rivers, she has managed to create controversy and energy around a Trump product. She has gotten more ink and Google hits than the actual winner of Miss USA, who was Miss South Carolina, um, whats-her-name! Beautiful woman...controversial views...topless pictures...Yeah, Trump this, baby! No way is she going to be kicked down the road!
That this is the fourth (or fifth) controversy involving a Miss USA contestant since Trump took the franchise over is, of course, just a coincidence.
After all these years, it's still good to be The Donald.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.