Send in The Donald

Send in The Donald

Posted: Monday, December 12, 2011 7:01 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump had his 15 minutes in this election cycle when he pretended earlier this year that he was running for president, but was really promoting his television show. That’s when he got all worked up about President Obama’s birth certificate, claiming he had investigators in Hawaii and would produce new information. That never came to pass, and Obama had great fun at the White House Correspondents Association dinner lampooning Trump’s stunt.
Now Trump is back once again trying to grab attention by hosting a Republican debate in Iowa two days after Christmas. So far he’s only got two takers – newly minted frontrunner Newt Gingrich and back-of-the-pack Rick Santorum. Jon Huntsman turned Trump down, declaring he would not kiss his ring “or any other part of his anatomy.” Mitt Romney took a pass as well, though he was polite about it.
One by one, the others declined too, though Michele Bachmann is still thinking about it. It’s as though a collective realization has suddenly taken hold that the Republican nominating process is coming across more like a reality show than a legitimate effort to find the most credible candidate to challenge Obama. Karl Rove, still the GOP’s premiere strategist, has been in the forefront decrying the Trump-moderated debate, predicting it will have the lowest ratings of any of the candidate encounters.
Rove has also questioned Trump’s legitimacy as a moderator, noting that the real-estate tycoon promises to endorse one of the GOP candidates after the debate, and that he is still holding out the possibility that he might run himself as an independent. “This is not a newsman. This is not somebody who’s gonna sit down and meticulously prepare for this,” Rove said, raising the specter that Trump might use the occasion to resurrect fringe concerns over Obama’s birth certificate, or push the candidates to support some of his radical ideas, like a 25 percent tax on imports from China.
Rove makes a good point about Trump not having a news show or a talk show. He’s no Rush Limbaugh, yet most of the candidates have made a pilgrimage to meet with him as though his blessing matters. Exactly which groups he would count as his constituency is a mystery — millionaires and billionaires? The GOP has those folks nailed down without Trump’s help.
Judging by the poor turnout for his debate, Trump may have worn out his welcome on the campaign trail. The race has taken so many interesting turns it doesn’t need Trump to hype a debate in the midst of the holidays when even caucus goers in Iowa need a break.
If he has an impact, it will most likely be on Gingrich, who may regret aligning himself with Trump, or on Huntsman, who may get a second look now that Gingrich’s surge in the polls has scrambled the race.
Ideologically and temperamentally, Trump is closest to Gingrich, and the two are talking about a junior apprentice show that would incorporate Gingrich’s idea about introducing poor kids to a work environment. Gingrich was rightfully assailed for making sweeping statements about the poor having no work habits when the plight of the working poor is often more about holding down multiple jobs and not earning enough to support a family.
Huntsman was first out of the box to refuse Trump’s debate invitation, and his salty language may have won him some votes in New Hampshire, where he is poised to take a nick out of Romney in the January 10 primary. With or without Trump’s antics, this primary season has offered plenty of surprises, and who knows, the almost universal negative reaction to the Trump debate may force The Donald to reconsider. Published in The Messenger 12.12.11

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