The real estate mogul and reality television star has had enough failures to qualify him to be a candidate in 2012
He's had huge business failures, cheated on his wife and ditched her for a much younger woman. He's never held elected office, his hair is a national joke and his weekly platform is a reality show.
For the moment, he's a one-issue candidate stuck on one of the most ridiculous issues of this or any campaign season.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the next President of the United States: Donald J. Trump.
Absurd, you say? Maybe. But these are absurd times.
There are reasons to think that the real estate mogul-turned-reality television star, who was famously dubbed a "short-fingered vulgarian" by Spy magazine, may not be completely nuts to mount a serious race for the presidency in 2012.
After all, a bad Austrian actor with lots of his own baggage, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was elected governor of California. A professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura, got the top job in Minnesota.
And the most prominent Republican in the race, Sarah Palin, got political traction not by legislative prowess or traditional leadership, but by spouting catchphrases and raging against the established ways.
In this climate, trading insults with Bill Cosby on the "Today Show" — the way Trump did when the Cos dared to dismiss his candidacy — qualifies as high-impact campaign strategy.
"Stranger things have happened," said TV writer/producer Phil Rosenthal, who demonstrated his knowledge of what Americans like with his TV show "Everybody Loves Raymond."
He added: "Although people with absolutely no qualifications at all — in fact, negative qualifications — have won the job."
There's plenty of reason to believe that Trump doesn't have much of a shot at landing the nomination, much less the presidency.
For instance: his record as a businessman, which will be central to establishing his qualifications — in fact, it's essentially all that he has — is not the sterling string of brilliant successes he'd have you believe.
His Taj Mahal resort in Atlantic City, funded largely with junk bonds, went into bankruptcy. His Trump Plaza Hotel was forced into Chapter 11 in the early 1990s, when his personal and business debt had grown to more than $4 billion; forced sales of prime New York property and restructured deals by his creditors kept him afloat — barely.
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In 2009, after his resurgence, Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for Chapter 11, the second time his casino properties had done so. Around the same time, he was sued by Deutsche Bank for defaulting on a $40 million loan for the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. (He countersued, claiming that the recession was an act of God and he didn't have to pay.)
If he points to his inarguable business successes on the campaign trail, he'll also have to face his failures — a prospect that might make it tougher to maintain his TV-fueled status as the Ultimate Businessman.
Given that, even some of Trump's friends and supporters don't seem to know if his candidacy is a stunt.
"All I can say to you is that, I'll believe it when I see it," New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a friend of Trump's, told Diane Sawyer this week. "I think he likes what he does. I think he likes building things. And I think he likes being on TV, and you know, he does that well."
Well, that should seal the deal.
Recent polls show Trump’s name rising among potential Republican hopefuls. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll places Trump tied for second in the GOP field; Mitt Romney led with 21 percent of Republican primary voters, Trump and Mike Huckabee both garnered 17 percent, and Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin trailed with 11 and 10 percent, respectively.
A CNN poll this week was even more dramatic, with Trump jumping from 10 percent to 19 percent in the past month, tying Huckabee as the top choice of polled Republican voters.
At the moment, Trump is riding a single issue to those poll numbers: the purported illegitimacy of President Obama's birth records, which has given rise to the so-called "Birthers," mostly right-wing conspiracy theorists who contend that the president was born in Kenya and is thus ineligible for the presidency.
Although virtually every legitimate news organization has dismissed those claims — as have many mainstream Republicans, at least the ones who don't have to worry about losing the Tea Party votes — Trump is milking it.
A few weeks ago he said he had "a little bit" of doubt about the president's birthplace. This week he changed his tune to this: "I think it's a real possibility … that he has pulled one of the greatest cons in the history of politics."
If he has a second issue, it's this: Barack Obama is a terrible president, the country is in trouble and I can run a business.
"I look at the country. It's never been worse. It's run at a level that I've never seen anything like it," he said Thursday on an Albany talk-radio program.
He also said he was dismayed by the president's strong support within the African-American community, though he did so with what might be a questionable turn of phrase.
"I know many Obama supporters," he said. "I have a great relationship with the blacks."
The key to Trump's candidacy — and the reason he might conceivably have a shot — is that the voters attracted to that kind of rhetoric are not inclined to study his record dispassionately. He taps into their anger (throw out all the politicians!), their struggles (he can help the economy because he's a rich businessman!) and their mistrust of Obama (he couldn't have won fairly, so it must have been a con!)
And in that climate, a career’s worth of flame-outs don't mean as much as an outsider's stance and some tough words.
The Donald had mountains of debt in the early 1990s, went through well-publicized bankruptcies and was bailed out by his creditors. So what?
Sure, his first marriage to the former Ivana Zelnickova (who was born outside the United States, in Czechoslovokia!) failed, as did his second to a former mistress 17 years his junior, Marla Maples. At least President Trump would have a pretty young (and also foreign-born, but we'll ignore that) first lady in his 24-years-younger third wife Melania Knauss, right?
Granted, his failed ownership of the New Jersey Generals was noteworthy enough to become the subject of a damning ESPN documentary, "Small Potatoes." And another documentary was just made about the fight over his plans to build a golf course in an environmentally sensitive area of Scotland.
But hey, nobody's perfect — and isn't it resourceful the way he (or Mark Burnett) realized that the way to save his slumping show "The Apprentice" was to turn it into the sideshow called "The Celebrity Apprentice," even if that required Donald to play second banana to Gary Busey and Nene every Sunday night?
Voters don't traditionally go for business magnates with enough personal baggage to fill the cargo hold of one of those Trump Shuttle planes that lost money for three years before being merged into nonexistence in 1992.
And they tend not to celebrate guys who put their names on everything they own and decorate their properties in a manner that suggests Versailles is a touch understated.
But things are crazy these days, and maybe that's good news for a crazy candidate.
Another reason Trump is qualified to be the country's 45th president: he knows how to get on those lists magazines love, especially when his brand is at stake. According to a individual close to the magazine, Trump once personally lobbied Forbes for a spot on its billionaires list, going as far as scheduling a meeting with editors to demonstrate that he deserved to be on it.
That’s just the kind of unabashed resourcefulness America needs.