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THE TRUMP MYSTERY

Is he a conservative or Republican in "name only"? Is he running, not running? Is he a clandestine Democratic operative bent on dividing the GOP's presidential vote in 2012, or just a very rich man who enjoys political fisticuffs on a global stage? The mysterious aspirations of Donald Trump continue to provide fodder to press prose.

"Trump wants to be the anti-Obama. President Obama is too soft, Trump is tough. Obama knows nothing about business, Trump is God's gift to American capitalism. Obama is painfully thoughtful in his affect, Trump is brash," observes Rich Lowry, editor of National Review.

"They share much more important qualities in common, though. Like the Obama of 2008, Trump is an arrogant celebrity with a talent for branding who knows much less than he thinks and vastly overestimates his ability to fix the country's problems," a skeptical Mr. Lowry adds. "We've been here before. Give me humble. Give me boring. Give me wonky. Give me anything but another celebrity apprentice."

The master-strategist Mr. Trump has delayed renewing his extension contract with NBC for "Celebrity Apprentice" as he mulls his options as candidate, even as the friends and foes alike try to figure out who, or what, he is. Meanwhile, National Review asked readers whether Mr. Trump, who recently declared that he has become pro-life, is an "authentic conservative." Of close to 17,000 votes in the online poll, 83 percent said that the billionaire did not qualify for the title.

BEVERLY HILLS GIPPER

Ronald Reagan continues to fascinate - even in chichi Beverly Hills. The Beverly Hills Public Library, in fact, has mounted an exhibit of the former president's letters and speeches written in his own hand, organized by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. The showing reveals much about Mr. Reagan, including his thoughts about Barry Goldwater's loss to Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater was vilified, Mr. Reagan insisted.

"He is so unlike the picture they've painted of him. He is one of the most honest and likable guys you could imagine and compared to that bum in the White House, well, if I let myself think about that, I'll have an upset stomach," the Gipper declared in one personal note.

MAHER & STEELE

"A new rule: until America gets back to work, the candy bar 'PayDay' must change its name to 'Unemployment Benefits.' " observes HBO host Bill Maher - who incidentally included former Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele in the lineup of his "Real Time" show on the weekend. Mr. Steele had a hollering match with MSNBC's Ed Shultz over budget matters and Medicare.

Interesting. The nimble Mr. Steele, who also has been a frequent Republican foil on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," is due to surface somewhere soon as a permanent cable pundit, or at least political strategist as 2012 looms.

TRILLION-DOLLAR RULES

As a fitting finale for tax season, keep in mind that the dutiful nation spends $1.75 trillion to comply with myriad federal regulations, this according to findings released Monday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State" by analyst Wayne Crews reveals that the Federal Register - the official source of federal rules and regulations - now weighs in at an all-time record-high 81,405 pages. And there's underpinnings, too: in 2010, federal agencies also issued 3,573 final rules while Congress passed and the president signed into law 217 bills. Translation? Lawmaking power migrates to unelected bureaucrats, the study says.

"Trillion-dollar deficits and regulatory costs approaching $2 trillion annually are both unsettling new developments for America. Every year, the federal government blows past previous deficit, debt, and regulatory burdens with no end in sight. No wonder Americans are fed up with Washington," observes Mr. Crews.

Wait, there's more. Regulatory costs "tower" over the nation's estimated 2010 individual income taxes of $936 billion by 87 percent - and absorb 11.9 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. See other findings at the Institute's site, http://cei.org.

MILE-HIGH KUNG FU

Something for the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Aviation Administration to monitor, perhaps. To deal with disruptive passengers and in-flight security emergencies, Hong Kong Airlines is now requiring cabin crews to take compulsory training in "wing chun," a type of kung fu used in close-range combat. So says the South China Morning Post newspaper.

"After a few lessons, we really liked wing chun," says Lumpy Tang, 22, a female flight attendant. "You cannot predict what will happen on the plane, so wing chun is good because it's so fast. I feel safer because I can defend myself."

OBAMA-SPEAK

"Easy" and "clear" are not the top buzzwords coming out of the White House speechwriter's office.

The Texas-based Global Language Monitor has been monitoring President Obama's favorite "sayings" when he is in official speech mode, since he was inaugurated more than two years ago. The tally, at the end of March: in first place, "Make no mistake" (said 2,924 times), followed by "win the future" (1,861 times), "here's the deal"(1,450 times), "let me be clear" (1,066 times) and "it will not be easy" (1,059 times.)

POLL DU JOUR

• 73 percent of Americans believe the government "wastes a lot of their tax dollars."

• 23 percent say it wastes "some" of the money; 4 percent say "not much" of the money.

• 50 percent of Americans say the tea party movement has a "positive effect on the country"; 43 percent say the effect is negative.

• 40 percent are "angry" about the amount of federal income tax they paid in 2010.

• 38 percent say they are "satisfied" with the amount; 21 percent say they have "no feeling" about it.

Source: A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of 824 U.S. adults conducted April 9 to 10.

Buzzwords, trumped up charges, press releases to jharper@washingtontimes. com.

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