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Donald Trump's run at the presidency: More than a stunt?

06/17/2015 10:52 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 05:59 EDT
A fleeting glimpse of the top of his head was enough to know "The Donald" was in the building.

That famous coif, a thinning tuft of silver-blond hair, sailed above a sea of media and campaign supporters as he walked through Trump Tower in New York yesterday to announce he was vying for the U.S. presidency.

As far as recognition goes for conservative presidential hopefuls, it's hard to top Donald Trump, the 12th Republican candidate to join the 2016 race for the White House.

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Although Trump scores points for "name identification," Republican strategists say he lacks something any prospective leader of the free world ought to have — serious political credibility.

The 68-year-old billionaire business magnate and reality TV star declared his candidacy on Tuesday, telling an elated audience, "I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created."

The mood was more grounded outside Trump's gilded skyscraper on Fifth Avenue.

Asked about Trump's chances of assuming the Oval Office, Julian Goodman invoked a quintessential New York expression.

"Forget about it!" the Queens resident said. "It's all flair. He's just a guy that likes the big show. He loves the spotlight."

Goodman, 44, views Trump's bid for the presidency as more of a sideshow act.

"If New Yorkers don't take Trump seriously, do you think the United States is going to take Trump seriously?" he said.

Not a power broker

As the host of NBC's The Apprentice, Trump is certainly not camera-shy, but he suffers from being viewed more as a rabble-rouser than a political power broker, says Jarryd Gonzales, a veteran Republican consultant.

"He's one more piece on that presidential primary chessboard, and my guess is most of the candidates see him as a pawn," Gonzales said. "He can inflict some damage, but he's unlikely to force a checkmate."

Gonzales believes Trump will struggle to steal support from top-tier Republican candidates such as Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.

"The best that he can do will be the top of the bottom-performing candidates," he said.

Self-described conservatives like Michelle Pollock admire Trump's unapologetic style and a personal fortune he claims amounts to $9 billion.

The 59-year-old Pollock, who is unemployed, took a two-hour bus from upstate New York to hear the candidate speak at Trump Tower.


"He's a businessman. He's a capitalist, but not a politician," she said. "I think that he's tough, that he's straightforward and he's going to bring back jobs."

Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum was more dismissive, calling Trump's campaign a "stunt" that threatens to upend serious political discourse.

"His whole campaign is more like a reality TV show. It's all based on getting on the air. It cheapens the whole thing," he said.

Gonzales expects Trump to bait some of his fellow Republican candidates, which could be distracting for his rivals.

"If it's one of his random, lofty attacks, you'd still have to respond in some way," he said. Gonzales said that as a fellow candidate, you just hope that a Trump broadside doesn't knock you off your own game plan.

27 years in the making

Trump's presidential announcement was 27 years in the making, following five teases about running since 1988.

In a June Quinnipac poll, just five per cent of Republican voters said they would vote for Trump if the election were held today.

His platform, according to Tuesday's speech, includes plans to "build a great wall on our southern border and have Mexico pay for that wall," repeal Obamacare, stop China from "stealing" American jobs and "be tougher on ISIS."

Trump did not go into specifics about his plans.

The Democratic National Party responded with a snark-laced statement.

"He adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation."

But Republican and Democrat candidates who may be tempted to ignore Trump do so at their own peril, warns veteran Republican operative and libertarian Roger Stone.

"He's going to be in the debates based largely on name ID, so right there he has a seat at the table. And he's a wild card," said Stone, who advised on presidential campaigns for Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Dismissing Trump won't be easy, either, Stone said.

"They're going to find it extremely difficult to ignore him because he's going to be extremely provocative," he said. "He is brash, he's outspoken, he's not politically correct and he will tell the American people a lot of things they may not want to hear."

'Vintage Trump'

That outspokenness was on full display on Tuesday, when Trump talked about Mexican immigrants, with one line in particular eliciting wide eyes from the press.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best... They're sending people who have a lot of problems," Trump said. "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists. Some, I assume, are good people."

The rambling speech was "vintage Trump," Stone said.

"Elites hated his speech today. On the other hand, the waitress who served me lunch today at the diner? She loved it," he said.

As for Trump's lack of experience? Stone said his success as a businessman speaks volumes.

"Which of the candidates has met more heads of state around the world? That would be Trump," he said. "Which presidential candidate has visited more foreign countries? That would be Trump. Which has done more business abroad? That would be Trump."

Outside on Fifth Avenue, another voter, Joyce Thomas, was unimpressed.

"He's a blowhard. Someone who likes to see his name on everything," Thomas said, looking back at Trump Tower.

"I just don't think the people of America will want to put 'Donald Trump Enterprises' on the front of the White House."

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