I hope you’re a believer in “the more the merrier” because two new potential candidates for president in 2012 are shaking up the race by sticking their toes in the water. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is going to Iowa and is reportedly considering a run, and billionaire Donald Trump is said to have told friends that he has decided to jump in once the next season of The Apprentice ends.
It seems to be assumed that Trump is just trying to boost the ratings for his show. After all, he has worked hard for his attention-hog reputation. We all remember when he had a vicious public fight with Rosie O’Donnell and used the controversy to get booked anywhere and everywhere so he could call her “fat” and a “loser” on air. However, it’s reported that he’s researching advisors for a potential campaign and insists he is serious.
Don’t underestimate Trump’s influence in the 2012 race. If the popularity of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tells us anything, it’s that voters are longing for a tough-talking candidate that doesn’t back down from a fight. It’s humorous to think of Trump saying “you’re fired!” condescendingly, but that’s the type of language that fits today’s angry political environment. He hasn’t held office and can therefore anchor himself to anti-Washington rage, and his reputation as an independent will also play well.
Trump has not given any policy proposals beyond taxing Chinese products and working to break OPEC, so he has room to say things to appeal to Republican primary voters. He will have to work hard to be taken seriously though, and once his support for the impeachment of President Bush because he “got us into the war with lies” and his bankruptcies are entered into the debate, he will be put on the defensive.
Trump won’t attract a lot of support among the social conservatives in Iowa because of his past infidelity and all-around inability to relate to them, but he could do well in New Hampshire. One poll found him winning 50 percent of Independents against Obama right now. Trump will fashion himself as a government-cleansing, straight-talking economic whiz. That will primarily hurt Mitt Romney, but he hurts all the other candidates as well. With his massive wealth, his ability to spout sound bites, and free media attention, he’ll leave the lesser-known candidates screaming to be noticed. Even if he ultimately doesn’t run but teases the media, he’ll have this effect.
Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann recently entered the foray, refusing to rule out a presidential run and scheduling a trip to Iowa. Should she declare her candidacy, she’ll hope to capitalize on questions about Sarah Palin’s electability, but any reason to doubt Palin is also a reason to doubt Bachmann. She has even less experience and is also gaffe-prone.
It will be hard for her to defend her statement that she is “very concerned” that Obama “may have anti-American views,” especially when after she retracted it, she later said: “I said I had very serious concerns that Barack Obama had anti-American views. And now I look like Nostradamus.” Saying things like that and mocking Chris Matthews on his own program for his “thrill up his leg” comment will play well to the base, but questioning your opponent’s patriotism will backfire in a general election.
Like Trump, Bachmann’s potential entry hurts pretty much every candidate. She is a natural competitor for Palin and her appeal among evangelicals would undermine Huckabee. All of the candidates of the second-tier and lower would groan at her entry as it makes it that much more difficult for them to make a splash. The first stage of the race will probably be a battle between Romney and the rest of the candidates who will be criticizing his flip-flops and health care plan. This will be a tough storm for Romney to weather, but having the anti-Romney vote divided up amongst more candidates will help his candidacy.
Of course, one or both of these figures could decline to enter the race. It is also quite possible that Trump is expecting to lose but is hoping to gain a following from the Republican primaries that can transfer into a third party or Independent candidacy. Whatever the case, Bachmann and Trump are shaking things up with the mere suggestion of their entry. What is certain is that 2011 is going to be a fun year for political junkies.