It’s a big field right now for the Republicans in 2012. At the moment, thirteen candidates have formally tossed their hats in the ring, and another eight are hedging up to it. One of those eight is Donald Trump, currently tied for first place with Mike Huckabee at 16% of the overall Republican vote. (April 15-20 Gallup poll. Huckabee leads among conservative Republicans, Trump among moderate to liberals.)
A year and a half out, polls are nearly worthless, and historically, the “entertainment value” candidates always decline in popularity as elections grow closer. While I certainly could be wrong, I personally don’t even think that Trump actually intends to run for president. He has said that he intends to declare one way or the other on the season finale of The Apprentice, which could mean all his talk thus far has just been advertising for his show.
But it might not be. As a way of attracting attention, Trump has dramatically ratcheted up the Birther crazy. (The oft-disproven notion that President Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore illegitimate as leader of the country.) Now when my extremely partisan and barely computer literate aunt writes me to ask why a Nigerian is sitting in the White House, I kind of understand it. She’s not a bad person, per se, but her world view is more narrow than most, lit in hues of Good vs. Democrat, doesn’t fully understand the phenomena of email-driven mythology, and is more than a trifle racist. She lives on a small ranch and spends her days with horses, dogs, and grandchildren. (I love her dearly.) Trump however, is a “titan of industry”. He lives on knowing the right answer before anyone else, and has all the resources necessary to always do so. He is worldly, curious, and intellectually expansive. I would posit that there is literally no chance at all that Trump actually believes any of the Birther nonsense he has been spouting. (His deliberately vague and elusive answers when asked for evidence and in the face of conflicting evidence seem to back this up.) So why then is he doing it?
Answer one: He wants to be President and thinks this is the way to do it. Downside: Thus far, conspiracy theories have not placed any U.S. presidents. When people walk into the ballot booth, they tend to shy away from handing over the nuclear weaponry to the craziest guy on the list.
Answer Two: He wants to make TV history with the biggest audience for a television show ever, and rake in the advertising dollars. Downside: None, really. Trump already has a reputation as a huckster and showboat, so this would hardly harm him, and he might make some bucks from it.
Answer Three: Mobilizing the Republican base. Downside: Again, nothing here to lose. He gets all the benefits from number two, plus, he has stirred up the wack-a-doos in the party who will now pick a more sane-looking candidate after Trump bails, who doesn’t have to threaten his or her own chances by actively courting these people and aping their theories. Trump’s strategy here is to essentially campaign not so much for himself, but for the Republican ticket. If he can secure the crazies and then back out, the frontrunner can look to the moderates who generally end up deciding the race. Whichever Republican wins is likely to be more pro-business than a populist Democrat, and may well be specifically pro-Trump. The potential monetary fallout from this line of thinking vastly eclipses anything to be gained by eighty-eight minutes of TV.
If this is Trump’s thinking, will it work? Maybe, maybe not. He’s making a big splash now, but seventeen months is an eternity in politician years. Of course there may be some endgame we haven’t seen yet. Time will tell. On the opposing side seem to be the Tea Partiers themselves. Organized around the concept of moving against the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Tea Party has put a large number of ideologically extreme governors in power across the country. These individuals have, solely by keeping their campaign promises, managed to alienate vast swathes of Republicans who voted for the “R”, without paying too much attention to the actual man behind it. This could very well result in a centrist push that would solidify Obama’s seat, and keep him in the White House for another four years.
I personally never thought much of Obama’s chances for a second term, and I’m still not sure. It does however, seem less unlikely than it used to. Even if Trump is doing exactly what I’m positing, Tea Partiers are notoriously difficult to corral, and may decide to walk away from the process rather than vote for a less fringey candidate. Or should I say, a candidate with less fringe.