Trump and the Republican dilemma

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, April 19, 2011


The possibility that controversial multimillionaire Donald Trump enters the Republican primaries speaks volumes about the uncomfortable situation the rightwing party finds itself in. President Obama is vulnerable in 2012 due to his own mistakes during his first term in office and due to the slow economic recovery. Yet, Republicans seem incapable of identifying an attractive candidate to take on the sitting president. The attention that Trump has brought to himself says much more about the weaknesses of the other candidates than about the businessmanís marginal chances of getting the nomination and defeating President Obama in November of 2012.


The Republican presidential race has gotten off to a very slow start. Depending on who counts, there are between 10 and 15 possible presidential contenders. The two front runners, the former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney and the former governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty, lack appeal within the party hardliners and in the general public respectively. The other hopefuls have bigger problems. Those who might awaken the Republican base are unelectable. Those who could be competitive against Obama will find it very difficult to clinch the Republican nomination.


Trump might be using the possible presidential run as an opportunity to capture media attention. The native New Yorker born in 1946 to a real estate developer is known as a shrewd businessman motivated as much by profits as by his desire to be a celebrity. His television show The Apprentice illustrates that Trump is better known for his public persona than for his real estate empire. Trump is often times been more interested in being the news than in making news.


In fact, few people seriously think that Trump will actually make it all the way to the Republican primaries in 2012. However, the fact that he is attracting so much media attention has further weakened the other candidates who have already taken the first steps to formally announce their bids. When television follows a possible contender that is thought by most of having little chances of winning, it follows that the other candidates are really not attractive to begin with. Thus, the public interest in Trumpís candidacy has confirmed the suspicion that the other hopefuls simply lack public appeal.


Even if he enters the race to attract attention to himself, Trump might end up being a victim of his own success. As he continues to attract media attention and if his chances of clinching the Republican nomination increase, he will seriously consider a run for office. That would be bad news for the Republican Party. Trump has led a very polemic life. His outspoken personality and frivolous inclinations make him a vulnerable candidate. As a businessman, he has normally expressed liberal views on moral issues. His recent conversion to more conservatismóincluding his campaign to question Barack Obamaís birth in the State of Hawaiiómight make him more electable in a Republican primary, but cause severe damage to his already deteriorated public reputation. Trump is a celebrity more than an intellectual, businessman or leader. His quick tongue and astute personality make him an attractive television personality, but not necessarily a solid presidential candidate. His presence primarily shows how weak the other candidates actually are.


The Republican Party is going through a difficult period. Rightwing fiscal conservative zealots have captured the party and will likely dominate the primary process. However, Americans are more concerned with employment and growth than with the deficit. Moreover, American interest in fiscal discipline normally weakens when it comes to discussing specific cuts. Americans want to cut the deficit, but they donít want the cuts to affect them directly. They would love to cut foreign aid (1% of the budget), but donít want subsidies to their districts eliminated. Fiscally conservative Republicans do have a strong point in claiming that future economic growth depends on reducing the deficit. Yet, since the deficit grew exponentially under the last Republican administration and that Republicans donít want to discuss tax increases, the Republican position will be difficult to maintain in the coming election season.


As if that conundrum was not enough, Republicans now have to face the Donald Trump problem. His entry into the race has highlighted the weakness of the other candidates in the field. If Republicans take him seriously, they might end up nominating a candidate who cannot defeat Obama. Given the high media attention he has captured, his presence in the race will further damage other candidates.


Fortunately for Republicans, Trump is a symptom, not the cause of their perils. Republican presidential hopefuls were already weak before Trump speculated with throwing his hat into the race. By announcing a possible run, Trump has simply unveiled the main Republican problem: they donít have a good candidate to face Obama in the 2012 presidential elections. Trump might be unelectable, but the fact that the enthuse public opinion more than the other Republican hopefuls should be a reminder to the Republican Party that they desperately need to find a more competitive candidate.