Trump casts a long shadow over the Republican party

Donald Trump leaves no one indifferent. Call it ego or insatiable narcissism, but no one outside the political ring can command this much attention. Not even a ranting Charlie Sheen.

Establishment GOP luminaries like Karl Rove, George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer have variously characterized Trump’s potential candidacy in a presidential election as a “joke” and “not serious.” More recently, in discussing Trump, conservative columnist David Brooks wrote that he admired his country’s tolerance for blowhards and crackpots. This was hardly an endorsement. Few experienced campaigners think he can win and many are out to prevent him from running. Yet some Republican operatives are facing up to the possibility Trump will make a go of it.

Trump’s admirers are less vocal, but they include som key supporters. Sarah Palin has egged him on; Reverend Franklin Graham thinks Trump may be onto to something with this “birther” stuff; Meghan McCain wants to help; and some Tea Partiers like his abrasive anti-Obama message. None can deliver what is needed to win the nomination, but they show that Trump can be a player if he so chooses.

Already, there has been a casualty in the Republican ranks. Mississippi’s Republican Governor Haley Barbour has decided to opt out of the race for the GOP nomination. While he may not have appeared as immediately electable and his preemptive withdrawal was not directly Trump-related, the man is smart and would have been a legitimate aspirant. Now, he will not even try because his candidacy was destined for the back pages. (Fundraising is complicated when you are stuck with single-digit poll numbers.) Others will soon follow Barbour’s lead as this race begins to revolve around the question of whether Trump will run or whether this is just a publicity stunt.

Meanwhile, “The Donald” lets no criticism go by without an intervention. His approach is similar to Sarah Palin’s in 2010—before her poll numbers collapsed. So Trump is now trashing Karl Rove, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert De Niro and anyone who ridicules his motives or his qualifications. He is on every TV network, nearly every second day. His latest schtick has been to go after Obama’s college report card and today he congratulated himself for resolving the birther controversy.

With Trump taking up so much room, how can more conventional politicians like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels capture the attention of the electorate? Between the Tea Party’s complaints about the Boehner-Obama budget deal, the strident social conservative voice of Michele Bachmann, and the everyday Donald Trump sound bites, it has become difficult for serious Republicans contemplating a presidential run in 2012 to gain any traction.

Two weeks ago, Trump argued he was richer and therefore a better businessman than Mitt Romney. He then said George W. Bush was so bad “that we got Obama.” He has pushed the “birther” issue and sent investigators to Hawaii to investigate. How can a fiscal conservative or a moderate Republican, seen as the best alternative to Obama, compete with him in an era of cable news? Donald is Trumping” the race big time! And it hasn’t even officially begun.

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