As young volunteers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other key battle states mobilize to draft Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for President next year, the seasoned observer of similar quadrennial “draft” movements has to wonder: Is it
really made of the same stuff as the Draft Goldwater cause that rallied philosophically driven conservatives nationwide and eventually delivered the Republican nomination to Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964, setting the stage for the eventual nomination and election of Ronald Reagan?
Or is it more like the more recent drive to draft H. Ross Perot for President, one in which disparate activists of many ideological stripes were taken with the persona of the Texas billionaire, relatively unfamiliar with his stands on issues, and eventually disappointeded when their hero abandoned the campaign only to resurface as a gadly candidate?
These questions will be answered in the long run—assuming, of course, that the millionaire real estate developer and creator of TV’s “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” actually does make the race that he has flirted with in the past and rejected.
“He’s closer to doing it this time than he has been in the past,” Roger Stone, veteran political consultant and longtime Trump adviser, told me. “And you are seeing more than one ‘draft movement’ spring up nationwide.”
Noting that Republicans tend not to nominate candidates with no political experience—for example, Steve Forbes, whose candidacy flamed out in 1996 and 2000—I pointed out to Stone that if The Donald were to win the Republican nomination, he would be the first GOP nominee with neither elective nor appointive office since Wendell Willkie in 1940.
“And the outsider phenomenon is more appealing than ever before,” Stone shot back. “As a celebrity, [Trump] has a unique pulpit. He hosts a top TV show, and people know he knows how to run a major business, that he understands job creation, and why we should not owe China anything.”
We discussed other potential problems Candidate Trump would face in the Republican nomination process: That he has frequently been a major contributor to Democrats (including $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s winning race for mayor of Chicago this year), that he once said George W. Bush “lied [and] got us into war with lies” by going into Iraq, and that he hoped then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which personally I think would have been a wonderful thing,” and that he only became pro-life after the birth of his youngest child four years ago.
“Contributing to Democrats—that’s the cost of doing business,” said Stone. “And he makes no bones about his opposition to what Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan. I still don’t see the U.S. interests in either country, and a lot of Republicans feel that way.”
As for Trump’s relatively late change on the abortion issue, Stone said that other Republicans have changed from the pro-abortion to the pro-life stand and that Trump’s views on the Second Amendment and marriage are very much in line with mainstream GOP primary voters and were a much-praised part of the businessman’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference last month.
From the Grass Roots
Two who heard Trump’s CPAC address and were motivated to launch the Draft Trump 2012 Committee were Nick McLaughlin of Missouri and Lynn Krogh of New York City. They were so motivated that McLaughlin decided to chair the committee and
Krogh became its political director.
“I have shaken Donald Trump’s hand—only heard him at CPAC,” McLaughlin, a U.S. Marine corporal who has done three tours of duties in Iraq, told me. “I like his business savvy. I think he knows you just can’t cut spending—you’ve got to go to other avenues to bring us jobs and let us make more cash.”
As for Trump’s criticism of the U.S. effort in Iraq (in which McLaughlin took shrapnel in his shoulder from a car bombing), the former Marine is not bothered. As he put it, “I’m a Marine and I take orders. I’m there to serve my duty, whatever it is.”
The St. Charles, Mo., man added that he is fed up with politicians and feels things have “gotten worse and worse, first under Bush and now under Obama.”
Krogh, past executive director of the National Young Republican Federation and a New York political consultant, is a different kind of Trump enthusiast.
“My game is grassroots,” she told me, recalling how she boosted the Manhattan Young Republicans from a group of 12 to its present membership of 1000-plus. “To have a successful grassroots operation, you need name recognition, likeability, and money. We’ve got some bright leaders that came out of the 2010 election—Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor—but you can’t be a national candidate unless you have money to get the message out. Donald Trump has it, the Trump brand is a tested one, and while some people hate him, more love him.
“He’d be a cool, exciting addition to the mix,” added Krogh, who has now secured volunteer staffers in Iowa, New Hampshire, and California. “Names will follow.”
As for some of Trump’s controversial views that are sure to raise eyebrows among GOP activists, Krogh said: “I don’t expect a candidate to agree with me on everything. I’m a ‘big tent Republican.’ ”
Like McLaughlin, Krogh emphasized that “there is not a penny of Trump money involved in our draft movement.”
Krogh told me she is studying other past presidential draft movements, notably the one behind Goldwater. As to whether hers yields the same success for Donald Trump, time will tell.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned this coming Monday for an exclusive interview with Donald Trump.