Appearing on Fox & Friends the other day, Donald Trump dropped a few hints that he might re-enter the presidential race. As it turns out, he wasn’t just shooting the breeze.
Trump had already consulted with election law expert Richard Winger, who told the Daily Caller, “at the time, he maybe didn’t think he really wanted to run for president at all. That’s what he said a few hours after I talked to him.”
This didn’t have to be an extensive consultation, since as Winger notes, getting on the ballot as an independent “isn’t all that difficult.” Trump just needs to hire enough people to collect a pile of petition signatures by next summer, to meet the cut-off dates in various states. He’d have a narrow window of time because of his television contract with NBC, but careful preparation and his immense name recognition should make it doable. Does anyone think Donald Trump would have much trouble getting 750,000 signatures on petitions nationwide?
Some Trump critics wonder if his continual flirtation with a presidential run is an effort to drum up publicity for his profitable media endeavors. Asking a question like that gets you fired on Celebrity Apprentice.
A lot of the early maneuvering in a presidential campaign involves getting a feel for financial support from important donors. Trump has the resources to skip all that. He also doesn’t have to worry about fading from the public consciousness, or re-introducing himself to a public that has forgotten about him.
Will these assets help him “do a Perot?” Who would want to “do a Perot?” Trump wouldn’t settle for that. He probably wouldn’t have to worry too much about independent voters turning their back on him because he already said he wouldn’t run. He can plausibly explain that business interests, including his Celebrity Apprentice show, made him decide against a Republican primary run, but subsequent events have convinced him to re-enter the race as an independent. He won’t need to peddle any weird stories about black helicopters following him around. There are black helicopters that follow him around, but they all have the Trump logo painted on their sides.
Unfortunately, the “subsequent events” that would bring him back into the race would involve a rather withering critique of the GOP presidential field. Trump provided an early example when he told Fox & Friends that none of the current contenders seemed like “the right candidate.” He would need to square his expressed reason for running – the urgent need to get Barack Obama out of the White House – with the inevitable criticism that an independent run would dilute the anti-Obama vote, and thus guarantee a second term for the incumbent.
Trump’s decision might well hinge on the general performance of those Republican hopefuls. They, in turn, would do well to study the key elements of Trump’s appeal. His boom in Republican primary polls was too large, and too enduring, to be dismissed as the novelty appeal of a celebrity candidate. Enormous name recognition might get a candidate off the launch pad, but it’s not enough to put him in orbit.
Perhaps the most important asset Trump brings to the table is his brash demeanor. It’s one of the reasons he can sell a late independent bid, without looking confused and erratic, like Perot did. If he jumps into the ring during June of 2012, he’s not going to apologize for saying he would sit this one out, way back in May of 2011.
The electorate is in no mood for a timid candidate. Trump is not timid. Every Republican candidate should ask themselves how Trump could make an eleventh-hour insurgent campaign fly. The answers will help their own campaigns get off the ground.