Donald Trump is almost certainly not going to be the Republican presidential nominee, and his candidacy puts the Republican Party in a quandary over its rules for which candidates to include in debates.
Trump has repeatedly suggested he will run for president, but has never followed through until now, although it remains unclear if his name will actually be on the ballot next year in Iowa. The real estate mogul has so far only released a short memo detailing his finances, but said Tuesday he will complete the full financial disclosure required by the Federal Election Commission to be a presidential candidate "right on time." Such a filing has risks for Trump, as it could show him as less wealthy than he claims and force him to open up his finances to public scrutiny.
Even if he is on the ballot, Trump has obvious disadvantages. He has never run for another office or held another government post, as nearly all modern presidents have.The Republican Party has at least a dozen candidates with stronger credentials than Trump.
He is unlikely to win a single primary. And Trump, unlike other long-shots like surgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, is likely to use his candidacy to take personal potshots at the other candidates, particularly Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, instead of discussing policy.
Trump’s interest in politics seems aimed at gaining attention, not addressing serious issues. He is perhaps the most prominent Republican to suggest continually that President Obama was not born in the United States. After the president publicly released his birth certificate in 2011, Trump remained unconvinced. He said he would give $5 million to a charity on the president’s behalf if Obama released his college transcript and passport records, which Trump suggested would show Obama is not an American citizen.
Trump though has already succeeded in some ways. Through repeatedly flirting with presidential runs in the past and now following through, the real estate mogul has become an influential person in national politics. He’s frequently a keynote speaker at Republican events like the Conservative Political Action Conference. He’s treated as a serious candidate, appearing on-stage at GOP events before or after people who could in truth be the Republican nominee, like Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
In part, this stems from the overuse of polls by those in political circles. At the height of his questioning of Obama’s citizenship back in April 2011, Trump was leading the Republican primary field, well ahead of Mitt Romney, the eventual winner.
The polls create the impression that Trump is a true contender for the presidency.
In reality, polls are often simply a test of fame. Trump has an NBC tv show (“The Apprentice”) and a chain of hotels named after him. He is ahead of some other Republican candidates simply because he is better-known. In a one-on-one contest between Trump and Rubio, the former would be trounced, as Republican voters learned more about both men’s records and policy stances.
Usually, Trump’s strength in polls doesn’t really matter. But the Republican Party has elevated the power of polls in the 2016 cycle, using them to, in effect, winnow the large GOP field.
The Republican National Committee last month gave permission to Fox News to limit its presidential debate to the top 10 candidates in national polls. (The network is holding an informal "forum" for those outside the top 10.)
Currently, Trump is ahead Ohio Gov. John Kasich, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in many surveys.
Santorum finished second in the 2012 primaries, Kasich runs America’s seventh-largest state and Graham is one of the party’s leading voices on national security policy.
A debate process that includes Trump but excludes that trio seems flawed. It would seem to reward questioning the president’s birthplace over working in challenging government posts.
Donald Trump has little chance of being the Republican nominee. But his presence may limit the ability of more plausible candidates to run effectively.