Can Donald Trump be president of the United States? Snoop Dogg and the Situation from Jersey Shore think so, and when are they ever wrong? Last week, the billionaire took time from firing ex-stars like David Cassidy from Celebrity Apprentice and attended a televised “roast,” where many of the jokes from B-list celebrities were about his intention to throw his toupée into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination. “Trump says he’s gonna run for president in 2012,” said host Seth MacFarlane, “but if his plan for America is to fire everyone, he’s about two years too late.” If smarmy stars believe Trump’s running, so does Trump. He told the show Inside Edition that he’s “seriously thinking about doing it” after this season of The Apprentice ends in June; he’s also reportedly booked time that month in New Hampshire, an early primary state, to address its fabled “Politics and Eggs” lecture series.
Trump is encouraged in his ambitions by a website, shouldtrumprun.com, which was set up by his spokesman Michael Cohen and grabbed what Trump described as “500,000 names in a very short period of time.” Polls are looking good too: a Newsweek one shows him running almost even in matchups with President Barack Obama, while another (by NBC, which broadcasts his show) announced that his favourable rating is higher than the GOP’s top candidates, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. In the words of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, “Who can beat Barack Obama? Donald Trump! Yeah, baby!”
Much of the mainstream media has chosen to treat his candidacy as a joke. Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator, told CNN that The Donald “has absolutely no chance of winning,” adding “I mean, he’s famous for being famous. He may be good in business but he’s not going to be president.” But maybe the supporters of the “serious” candidates don’t think Trump is such a big joke: after he appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February and said that Rep. Ron Paul has “zero chance of getting elected,” a Paul supporter from 2008 sprang into action and filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Trump, charging that this “de facto candidate” was improperly spending money to jump-start his primary campaign in Iowa.
And why shouldn’t these other candidates be afraid of a man who beats them at their own game? Not only is Should Trump Run challenging Paul when it comes to Internet cultism, Trump has been doing for years what all the other candidates only recently started doing: becoming a TV star. Virtually all the other Republican candidates are regulars on Fox News, which has become a sort of 24-hour infomercial for competing candidates. But none of them, not even cable reality star Sarah Palin, can compare to Trump when it comes to TV success. Though the ratings of The Apprentice have dropped lately, in the show’s prime it was one of the few things keeping NBC afloat. In 2004, network president Jeff Zucker gratefully said that Trump was “a huge game-changer for us” in those lean years. He saved NBC, and saved his own reputation after coming near bankruptcy in the ’90s. No wonder he thinks he can save something marginally less badly run, like America.
The Apprentice could be a better ticket to the presidency than a Fox News post, because in its own way, it’s more dignified. Whereas Huckabee or Palin are reduced to the level of pundits, Trump is treated almost like a demigod on his own show. Like Martin Sheen as the president on that other NBC show, The West Wing, Trump doesn’t always have the most screen time, preferring to let the contestants argue and his helpers (including his own children, setting the stage for a Bush-style dynasty) do a lot of the heavy discussion. When Trump takes centre stage in the climactic boardroom sequences, he often makes generic statements that could apply to virtually any contestant regardless of the scenario: “Do you really believe you’re tough enough to work in New York?” Like Obama with his famously bickering staff, Trump just amusedly sits around and watches other people ﬁght, instead of joining the fray himself.
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