Business Times - 27 Apr 2011
Donald Trump for president?
The host of NBC reality show The Apprentice may well defy conventional wisdom and make his way to the White House
By LEON HADAR
THE conventional wisdom in Washington these days is that billionaire Donald Trump will probably not be elected as the next US president. But then, the conventional wisdom once upon a time had it that there was 'no way' that an ageing and not very successful Hollywood actor (Ronald Reagan) or an inexperienced and young African-American politician whose last name rhymed with 'Osama' (Barack Obama) would be occupying the White House.
The safe bet is still against a Trump presidency. But Trump, currently the host of NBC reality show The Apprentice and who startled politicians and pundits when he announced that he was considering running for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, has defied the conventional wisdom big time after a recent opinion poll suggested that he was surging ahead of other presumed Republican presidential candidates.
Indeed, the poll conducted among likely Republican voters indicated that 26 per cent of them were considering him as a serious presidential candidate. Other Republican politicians who have been around for a long time and have expressed interest in running for the presidency were falling behind Trump. Former Arkansas governor Michael Huckabee seemed to enjoy the support of 18 per cent of Republicans, while 15 per cent of them were backing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who had almost won the Republican presidential primaries in 2008. Other Republican favourites - Newt Gingrich (11 per cent), Sarah Palin (8 per cent), Ron Paul (5 per cent), Tim Pawlenty (4 per cent) - were far behind in the polls.
Even more astounding were results of public opinion polls that pointed out that many independent voters - those who had tipped the balance in favour of Democratic presidential candidate Obama in 2008 - had a favourable view of Trump and were not averse to voting for him as president.
And get this: Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, has given his blessings to a possible presidential run by Trump, a thrice-married owner of casinos. Asked by an ABC News television interviewer on Sunday whether Trump might be his choice for the 2010 presidential election, the conservative Christian responded: 'Sure, yes. Sure.'
Interestingly enough, on the same television news show, Graham seemed to be questioning Obama's Christianity, while refusing to dismiss charges that have been promoted by Trump that Obama has yet to produce a valid birth certificate that would prove that he was indeed born in the US and was therefore eligible, according to the Constitution, to serve as president.
Indeed, Trump, whose persona and political biography reflect a consistent liberal social-cultural disposition, is aware that he would not be able to win the Republican presidential nomination without gaining the support of Christian and other conservative activists who play a major role in determining the outcome of the presidential primaries, especially in the early electoral battleground states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
So the flashy, loud-mouth and self-indulgent Trump, who feels more at home in one of his nightclubs than in any house of worship, has reinvented himself as a family man and as a regular churchgoer.
'Well I go as much as I can on going to church,' Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody. 'Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there's a major occasion. And during the Sundays. I'm a Sunday church person. I'll go when I can,' he added.
'I am pro-life,' Trump told thousands of activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington recently. 'I am against gun control,' he said to the cheers and applause of the enthusiastic audience. He also insisted that he was against gay marriage and he called for ending one of Obama's major legislative achievement, the healthcare law, the Tea-Party's No 1 bÃªte-noir. 'I will fight to end Obamacare and replace it with something that makes sense for people in business and (will) not bankrupt the country,' Trump has said.
And recognising that allying with the Obama haters seems to be the most effective way of winning the hearts and minds of the Republican conservative troopers, Trump has even joined the ranks of the so-called 'birthers', who have challenged the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate, which indicated that the president was born in Hawaii in 1961. 'Obama is unwilling or unable to show his birth certificate,' Trump said, telling reporters that he had hired private detectives to help him expose the truth about this controversial issue.
Another of his trump cards has been a dose of Islam bashing. He has charged that there was 'a Muslim problem' in America. 'Bill O'Reilly (the Fox network personality) asked me, is there a Muslim problem? And I said, absolutely, yes,' he said during his CBN interview. 'In fact I went a step further. I said I didn't see Swedish people knocking down the World Trade Center.'
'I'm certainly not an expert to put it mildly, but there's something there that teaches some very negative vibe,' Trump said about the Quran. 'There's a lot of hatred there that's some place,' he continued. 'Now I don't know if that's from the Quran, I don't know if that's from some place else. But there's tremendous hatred out there that I've never seen anything like it.'
Bashing Islam and promoting identity politics - fused with a bit of racism and nativism in the form of 'birtherism' - may help Trump win backing not only from conservatives and rank-and-file Republicans. This kind of right-wing populism could also help him attract the support of political independent voters who seem to have soured on Obama as well as on the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress and who are becoming less confident about the strength of the economic recovery.
Indeed, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll indicated that the while optimism about the economy had helped raise Obama's approval ratings in January, close to 80 per cent of voters now feel the economy is getting worse. In fact, a majority of Americans disapprove of the president's management of the economy.
That sentiment seems to be dominant among the independents, who against the backdrop of rising oil prices and the legislative deadlock over the budget in Washington, are searching for new political leaders who will be able to get the US out of its economic mess and re-establish its position as a great power. Someone who is tough and means business and won't allow the Muslims, the Chinese and the other 'baddies' to 'steal' American jobs and push the US around.
From that perspective, Trump is a very appealing presidential candidate, an American success story, a swashbuckler capitalist who exudes confidence, energy and a can-do attitude ('You're fired!') that seem to be lacking in Washington these days, especially when it comes to dealing with America's global economic competitors.
And indeed, in addition to the occasional Islam bashing, Trump has been critical of what he considers to be the 'appeasement' of China and has promised to impose a 40 per cent tariff on China products to help protect American manufacturing.
As for Libya: 'I would go in and take the oil - I would just go in and take the oil. We don't know who the rebels are. We hear they come from Iran. We hear they're influenced by Iran or Al-Qaeda, and, frankly I would go in. I would take the oil - and stop this baby stuff,' he said.
This is the kind of message that clearly resonates among many American voters. You have been warned.
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