How Do You Solve A Problem Like Donald Trump?

What is Donald Trump up to? Only he seems to know for sure.

Today over at Politico, Maggie Haberman and Ben Smith try to answer the question that everyone else seems to be asking right now, what the heck is Donald Trump really up to:

Despite an almost universal refusal by Republican establishment figures and the press to take him seriously, Donald Trump is taking very concrete steps toward forming — and announcing — a presidential campaign.

He has interviewed at least two people for a campaign manager position, sources said. He is in contact with several well-known media consultants and has spoken to figures in the evangelical community such as Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins.

Still, the question remains: Is Trump serious?

Yes. And no.

The widespread assumption that Trump’s flirtation with the presidency is a publicity stunt is no doubt at least partly true. But that’s merely the point of departure for a man for whom almost every public move over the past 30 years has been a publicity stunt. Trump has, in the past, hinted at presidential bids, only to pull back after basking in the public interest. But in the same voraciously media-hungry spirit in which he has leveled an array of accusations — some overstated, others flatly false — at President Obama in recent weeks, Trump appears likely to launch a formal presidential campaign, hire staff, shake hands in Iowa, participate in debates – in short, run for president. (See also: Trump draws Obama into ‘birther’ fray)

Trump is making the “types of moves that one makes if they’re actually running,” said one top Republican consultant familiar with his efforts.

The real estate mogul has spoken to pollster Tony Fabrizio as well as members of Larry Weitzner’s Jamestown Associates, sources said. Three Republicans said that Florida-based media consultant Rick Wilson had been recommended to Trump as a potential hire. (Wilson declined to comment on whether he’d been approached or spoken with Trump).

He recently called pollster and strategist Kellyanne Conway, who agreed to set him up with some evangelical leaders.

“I would not discount his viability because he crosses the first threshold,” said Conway, citing his name recognition and ability to put money toward a race.

There have also been reports that Trump has interviewed Ralph Reed, the former head of the Moral Majority and still a powerful force in the evangelical community, to be his campaign manager, although Reed has said today that he has “no plans” to work for Trump. At the same time, though, there are many who doubt that Trump is seriously planning to run for President, including the people who work with him to put The Apprentice on the air:

A decision by Mr. Trump to formally declare his intention to seek the Republican nomination could disrupt the network’s plans to broadcast future seasons of his show, “The Apprentice,” because of concerns that other candidates could request equal airtime.

But no one at NBC has done much serious planning about what to do with “The Apprentice,” because of what two executives cited as pervasive doubts that Mr. Trump would actually enter the race.

“This is Donald being Donald,” said one senior executive who would be involved in any decision about how NBC handles the show. The executive, who asked not to be identified to avoid any conflict with Mr. Trump, said “any decision is still weeks away.”

For the most part, though, it seems as though most people’s interpretation of what Trump is “up to” is based at least in part on their opinion of the man. The fact that so many people don’t take him seriously is, I think, a reflection of the fact that, leaving aside his business successes (such as they are, and they are disputed) he is the classic clown of the media age. He’s Rush Limbaugh with more hair and more money.

Or, is there something more?

Perhaps the best analysis of what Trump has been doing in the two months since he showed up at CPAC is a piece over at Hot Air today by Jazz Shaw that examines Trump’s actions based largely on his own writings, specifically his most famous book The Art Of The Deal:

If the rest of the GOP field really wanted to be ready for Trump and to know how to handle his sudden rise to political prominence, they really needed to look no further than his book, The Art of the Deal, and a few lectures of his which I attended in his pre-political incarnations. He’s approaching this in the exact same fashion he takes on any business challenge in a hostile environment.

  1. Identify a niche market to exploit
  2. Drive a wedge between you and your competitors
  3. Use that wedge to open a space allowing the customers to come to you

I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it really does strike me as a fairly good explanation of what Trump is doing, assuming that he’s actually intending to run for President and this all isn’t just a publicity stunt of massive proportions. There’s even a way for Trump to at least try to put the birther nonsense behind him:

If you backtrack through the hyperbolic media coverage of Trump’s “candidacy” you will note one important fact. Not once has The Donald actually stated that Obama was not a natural born citizen, nor that he was born in Kenya, nor that he wasn’t qualified to be president. He’s just said that he recently found the question “interesting” and that he had people on the job “investigating” it. He never said that Obama had “pulled off the greatest scam in American history.” He said that if this were true then it would be the greatest scam ever.

Hence, once he nails down the nomination, he waits a respectable few days, calls back his “investigators” from the Honolulu Hilton, and sadly announces to the nation that there were no conclusive results and that we need to assume that Barack Obama was qualified to take office. This is followed by an immediate 90 degree pivot and he’s on to talking about what a terrible job Obama has done and why he shouldn’t be given a second term.

Would it work? I’m not so sure. Trump has said plenty of wacky, crazy stuff over the past two months that I’m not sure it’s going to be so easy for him to walk it back, especially if he wants to hold on to the “birther base” that would have won him the nomination. Moreover, there’s more to Trump than the birther nonsense, and some of that is even more strange and irrational. Add to that the history of Trump in the media over the past 20 years, and there is plenty of fodder out there for the media to have fun with from Labor Day to Election Day. The Obama campaign wouldn’t even need to lay a glove on him.  And all that assumes he’d get the nomination. This is far from a winning strategy.

So, is Donald Trump serious? It certainly looks like it, and as Jazz Shaw notes, he seems to be playing the same strategy he always has. That still doesn’t mean he’ll run, though. I don’t know about you but I cannot picture Donald Trump spending the next year running for the Republican nomination, and I sure can’t picture him doing the retail politics necessary in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s a big difference between being a media star who leads a relatively sheltered personal life, and running for political office. Something tells me Donald Trump really doesn’t want to give up the life he has for the uncertain future of politics.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Environment, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Trump is not a problem for Republicans. Given the state of the conservative movement today, he is a logical conclusion.

  2. jwest says:

    For the benefit of liberals, Doug and others who don’t understand business, Trump would need to start unwinding his holdings now or face placing everything into a blind trust if elected, which he certainly wouldn’t do. If he held off divesting himself of his interests until he was elected, he would face stunning losses selling out because the major asset of most of his businesses is his name.

    Trump is playing the media for the fools they are. He gains mountains of free publicity, feeds his ego and lets the MSM pay for the privilege of reporting every shot at Obama. He won’t change a single vote on the politically aware right or left, but with every news cycle thousands more of the great unwashed middle hear how the country is being run into the ground by the Muslim without a birth certificate.

    Some of these swing voters even hear the left rebutting the claims, but invariably the people trying to talk down Trump don’t own any Manhattan buildings or jets, so what could they possibly know? Trump is showing the republican party how it’s done. Why spend hundreds of millions on attack ads during the campaign when you can set the narrative in the minds of those who matter before hand, with the liberal MSM paying for it?

    Maybe someday there will be a law against using liberal’s ignorance and naiveté against them, but until then guys like Trump will have fun.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    My, my…let us not give Trump more credit than he deserves…although it seems to have become some kind of delusional fantasy to some that Trump is supposedly doing anything to hurt the president…

  4. daveinboca says:

    Trump is the latest incarnation of the busted flushes who have launched third party efforts—since he has little support that isn’t razor-thin—such as the Perot effort in ’92 which was totally engineered to defeat his hated enemy, GHWBush, which he succeeded in doing despite the fact that he’d quit his campaign in mid-summer after babbling about North Korean operatives disrupting his daughter’s wedding. It didn’t take long for him to reconsider, given that the media was actively supporting Bill Clinton’s candidacy and needed Perot in the race to winkle out marginal Bush supporters gullible enough to vote for Perot, who was projecting when he talked about the “crazy aunt in the attic.”

    That crazy aunt was Perot who is now reincarnated in the publicity-hog buffoon Trump.

  5. Davebo says:

    Say what you will about the Don, but he’s no idiot.

    He sees a pliable electorate on the GOP side and though he may not take advantage of it (read candy from a baby) he’ll certainly milk it for publicity.

    Tea Party teat is MMMM MMMM GOOD!

  6. mpw280 says:

    Just to prick your liberal balloons, you folks ever hear of some guys called Jesse Jackson (Sr) and this fruitcake named Dennis something, oh yeah Kucinich. Were they a problem for the dem party? Nope they were just the salt on the french fries a little garnish for the goofs, some spice for the curry. Did the dems have to denounce their goofier candidates? mpw

  7. ponce says:

    Republicans are holding The Donald to a higher standard than they set for regular politicos.

    Other than Romney, who among the so-called Republican front runners have officially announced their intentions?

  8. Moosebreath says:

    “Some of these swing voters even hear the left rebutting the claims, but invariably the people trying to talk down Trump don’t own any Manhattan buildings or jets, so what could they possibly know?”

    Fascinating. Why not go whole hog, and say people who own more should have their votes counted more than the rest of us?

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Ignore him for being a complete asshat?

  10. Neil Hudelson says:

    you folks ever hear of some guys called Jesse Jackson (Sr) and this fruitcake named Dennis something, oh yeah Kucinich.

    They were never the nationwide front runner.

  11. Stan says:
  12. ian says:

    I work with a guy who is pretty tight with Trump… and he is definitely running. Confirmed 3 weeks ago.

  13. John425 says:

    I give Trump as much respect as I gave to Ron Paul. Zip, Zilch, Nada, nothing.

  14. Hey Norm says:

    Solution? A decent haircut.
    Any party that will put Sarah “daddy load my gun for me” Palin one heartbeat from the Presidency will be happy to have Trump.
    You’re hired!!!!

  15. reid says:

    USA Today headline: “Trump: I’ll release tax returns if Obama releases birth certificate”

    What an a-hole.