Contrary to the undercurrent of skepticism among political experts and the media, “The Donald” is very likely to run for president in 2012. The question for Trump is not whether he will throw his hat (or his hair) into the race, but whether he will run as a Republican, an independent or both.
Minus the “birther” drivel, Trump’s presence in the 2012 GOP presidential primary could be a good thing for the rest of the Republican field. As Time is quick to point out: “For the most part, the start of the next presidential campaign has generated as much excitement as the drop of a wet towel.” Trump’s presence in the race would certainly get more folks to pay attention. Simply put, for better or worse, “Trump” is a name people know. On the web, he is a traffic driver every time he breathes. Compare Trump’s media radiance to other GOP contenders, particularly Pawlenty, Barbour and Daniels, who are virtually invisible outside of the Beltway.
Aside from generating enthusiasm by bringing the circus to town, Trump’s presence in the field will inevitably make the other Republican contenders look more “presidential” (or at the very least look more like adults). Recalling the 70s television hit Welcome Back, Kotter, every class needs a clown to generate excitement, and Trump is perfect for the role. The Donald is funny, witty and has just enough panache to keep Republican primary voters glued to their television sets and web browsers, at least until Trump gets fired by real voters in true Apprentice style. By that time, the remaining 2012 GOP field will be able to hold its own.
Like Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, we don’t think Trump will win the 2012 Republican nomination. According to Barbour, “[a]t the end of the day, [GOP primary voters] will make decisions based on candidates they know, not just the idea of here’s some poll and where do I want to park my vote today.” A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey (published April 12) places Trump and Huckabee atop the GOP presidential leader board, but trust us, this won’t last for Trump. Huckabee’s frontrunner status, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
The eventual downturn of Trump’s fortunes within the Republican nominating process is the real risk for the GOP. Now that he has seen his poll numbers jump, Trump is publicly toying with the notion of running as an independent, should he not secure the Republican nomination. Such a move would make Trump a hypocrite, given his stated reasons for running in the first place (the nation is in trouble, particularly with Obama at the helm), and could severely diminish the eventual GOP presidential nominee’s chances of victory at the ballot box next year. Still, once Trump gets started on something, he rarely backs down without a fight.
Obama is certainly beatable. Unfortunately, if the eventual GOP nominee is to knock the president from his perch at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Republican standard-bearer will most likely have a razor-thin margin of error in the 2012 battleground states. Even if Trump manages to get on the ballot in just one presidential battleground state (e.g., Florida, Nevada or Ohio) and doesn’t even campaign with any great enthusiasm, his presence alone in the race could take away enough votes from the 2012 GOP presidential nominee to allow Obama to comfortably skate to an electoral victory.
On the other hand, if Trump really wants to make David Plouffe eat crow in 2012, here is a suggestion for him: Get on the presidential ballot as an independent ONLY in the Democratic strongholds of California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Washington. Trust us, Plouffe will sweat because Obama could be forced to defend his turf on the electoral map, and the eventual GOP presidential nominee really won’t mind a little extra breathing room.
Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.