Coming out swinging as a GOP presidential candidate, 69-year-old New York real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump, has the Republican establishment in fits. Trading barbs with his fellow GOP candidates, Trump shows out-of-the gate that he won’t be intimidated by Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee. When RNC Chairman Priebus asked Trump to tone-it-down July 8, he got more than he bargained for, with insulting comments about Vietnam War hero Sen. John McCain’s five-and-a-half-years at the so-called Hanoi Hilton. Outraged by his comments, a number of GOP candidates insisted Trump disqualified himself for serving as commander-in-chief. Trump’s most recent antics, handing out Sen. Lindsey Graham’s personal cell-phone phone number, showed the imperious real estate tycoon shows little personal restraint on the stump.
Called a “jackass” by Graham July 21, Trump responded in kind, disparaging Lindsey’s poor showing in the polls, essentially, like he did on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” calling him a loser. “I didn’t start it with Lindsey Graham. I couldn’t care less about Lindsey Graham. He’s registered at I think zero in the polls,” Trump pointed out. “Lindsey Graham called me a jackass. So am I suppose to say, ‘Oh, it’s OK?’ I’m called a jackass. You have to fight back,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, promising to tone it down at the appropriate time. Graham reacted publicly to Trump criticizing his close friend Sen. John McCain’s incarceration as a POW from 1967-1973. “I like people that weren’t captured. OK?” Trump said, saying McCain was a war hero because he was a POW. Other GOP candidates called on Trump to step aside, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
All GOP candidates have a problem with Trump because of his bigger-than-life-stature that preceded his stint on NBC’s “The Apprentice.” Since Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” hit the New York Times Best-Selling List in 1987, Trump has honed his brand as America’s most successful real estate entrepreneur. With a towering personality far eclipsing other GOP candidates, it’s difficult to corral his oversized ego because he has so much more charisma than any other candidate. Poised with a clear voice in front of any audience, Trump shows the kind of clout that’s difficult to attack without it backfiring on other candidates. When compared to GOP frontrunners former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or Ketucky Sen. Rand Paul, Trumps looks like Gulliver surrounded by the Lilliputians, presenting problems ahead.
Trump’s stagecraft, coming like gangbusters, has sucked oxygen from the rest of the GOP field. Media outlets follow him for breaking news like paparazzi, waiting for every quotable word or possible gaffe. Whether or not Trump’s current strategy can last is anyone’s guess. What the RNC and GOP field haven’t accepted is Trump’s command over the media, following him like the Pied Piper. Looking just a little sharper, more Hollywood-like and glamorous than other candidates, Trump’s showmanship has left other candidates looking disheveled. His polished appearance hasn’t been seen since former President Ronald Reagan began running for president in 1966. Trump’s raw charisma commands instant attention for cameras-and-microphones, leaving his critics looking like sore losers. Instead of looking to PR consultants and media handlers, Trump makes his own headlines.
Whatever the RNC thinks of Trump’s negative publicity, it’s left no attention for other candidates, including frontrunners like Bush and Walker. When the 10 highest polling candidates get on the same stage Aug. 5 for the first Fox News debate, they’ll all be gunning for Trump, knowing, if they look to awkward, their efforts will backfire. With a new ABC News poll showing Trump with 24% of the GOP vote, he’s 10 points in front of his closest competitor, whether Bush or Walker. Bush, Walker and the rest of the GOP field have a real problem when the public compares Trump’s well-honed media personality. More comfortable in front of cameras than by himself, Trump welcomes the chance to talk to the ubiquitous camera lens. Looking like he’s having fun in his elements, it makes other candidates look awkward while they attempt to find fault with Trump’s message.
Trump’s charisma, honed over many years of public and TV exposure, presents problems for other GOP candidates, more awkward selling their brand in front of the cameras. However well Trump fairs against his fellow GOP candidates, he’s got some real fence-mending after taking the border and anti-immigrant issue too far. Calling Mexican immigrants “drug dealers” and “rapists,” Trump’s politically incorrect words set the GOP back several notches in their bid to attract Latinos. GOP candidates can only pray that Trump’s “fast-and-loose” style gets him into trouble in the debates, especially on the economy and foreign policy. Judging by his 2015 competitors, Trump has a real advantage of name recognition, and, most importantly, his years of national TV exposure. Derailing Trump won’t be easy for any of the current GOP field, struggling to get out the message and build their brands.