Here’s the case supporter and longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone makes for why Donald Trump would be a viable presidential candidate: Trump’s got the business moxie to create jobs, the policy positions to win over the Tea Party, and, in a field dominated by dullards, the charisma to match President Obama in a likeability showdown.
“He’s a giant among pygmies. The fact that he is a celebrity, the fact that he can command public attention, gives him a terrific pulpit to communicate some very key ideas,” Stone says, referring to Trump’s outspokenness on U.S.-China relations and OPEC.
“He’s got a proven record of job creation,” Stone adds. “He’s created thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs in the private sector. Mitt Romney bought a bunch of companies and closed them down. I think he may have cost us jobs in his business career. Beyond that . . . voters are very sour on politicians. Somebody coming from another strata . . . is very attractive to the American people right now.”
Stone, a friend of Trump’s who chaired the business mogul’s 2000 presidential exploratory committee and worked for him as a lobbyist in Washington for over 20 years, also sees an opportunity for Trump to capture the Tea Party momentum.
“I don’t view the Tea Party as being motivated by social issues. I view the Tea Party as being motivated by economic issues, and the size and cost of government, and the issue of taxation. On all those issues, Trump is a long-time conservative,” says Stone, noting that Trump has opposed Obamacare from the start.
So far, the Trump foray into 2012 has had middling success. After delivering a well-received speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump has continued on the conservative circuit, giving interviews to Rush Limbaugh (who praised Trump as having a “good old American can-do spirit”) and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released this month found that Trump had 26 percent approval ratings, a percentage point ahead of Romney and 16 points ahead of Tim Pawlenty.
But as a possible candidate, Trump doesn’t appear to have gained much traction. The Facebook page for Draft Trump 2012, a petition effort spearheaded by Missouri military veteran Nick McLaughlin, has only 218 fans. (Trump’s main Facebook page has about 180,000 fans, significantly less than Romney’s 800,000.) This weekend, veteran Tennessee GOP senator Lamar Alexander told CNN that Trump had “absolutely no chance of winning” and was simply “famous for being famous.”
Trump shot back, telling Fox News that Alexander did “not seem to be an important player in Washington.”
Trump also faces concerns about his social-conservative credentials. Although he identified as pro-choice in 1999, he now says he is pro-life. While Romney (who has also changed positions on abortion) has been dogged by questions about the sincerity of his conversion, Stone doesn’t think Trump will be similarly affected. “The problem, I think, is that Mitt Romney changed all of his positions at the same time overnight,” Stone says. “I think the voters will allow a candidate to change positions on issues over time.”
Stone is similarly optimistic that the thrice-married Trump can avoid the probing personal-life questions that the also-thrice-married Newt Gingrich is likely to encounter. “Ronald Reagan was divorced,” Stone points out. “It doesn’t seem it was a problem for him. It is the manner in which you get divorced. In Trump’s case, he treated all of his ex-wives well and fairly, and I think they’re all favorably disposed towards him.”
And Stone thinks that, in a field where no candidate appears to have significant traction, Trump has the charisma to wow voters — and compete against Obama in the likeability department. He also doesn’t see Trump’s lack of political experience as a weakness. “I think voters prefer business experience to political experience,” Stone argues. “Political experience means you’ve been in Washington or in a state capitol and you haven’t gotten much done. I think voters consider creating a successful business empire — not only making millions of dollars, but also creating thousands of jobs — a worthy substitute for experience in the nation’s capital.”
But will Trump even run? He’s been flirting with a presidential run for over two decades. “I think he’s about 50-50. I think he’s the most serious he’s been. Nobody goes to CPAC without thinking about running for president,” says Lynn Krogh, the national political director of the Draft Trump 2012 committee.
“He’s certainly more serious than he’s ever been before,” agrees Stone. “In 2000, he was never completely sold. Now it’s a different time. His children from his first marriage are adults. They’re obviously beginning to run parts of his business. He’s now happily married, with a young son. I think he’s serious.”
“People are really looking for someone who is above the party politics,” Krogh remarks, noting that Trump has donated to both Democratic and Republican candidates, and adding that Trump would be a “fun candidate.”
“Can you imagine him debating?” Krogh asks. “It’d be really cool.”
Ultimately, any interest in Trump may say more about the 2012 field than Trump himself.
“The field is so slow,” Stone remarks. “There are no giants in this field.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO staff reporter.