- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2011

A poll and a scathing message from an influential anti-tax group serve as a blunt reminder to Donald Trump that there’s a long road ahead of him if he wants to be a serious contender for president.

With no clear favorite for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, the Manhattan billionaire has spent months flirting with a White House bid and seen his name jump in some presidential polls, while he leveled stiff criticism at the Obama White House. He boasts about what he sees as his conservative credentials, overall smarts and top-notch business pedigree.

But the real estate and hotel magnate got a gut check Monday after Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, called Mr. Trump’s potential candidacy a joke, labeling him as just another “tax-hiking liberal” and “the King of Protectionism” when it comes to international trade. Rasmussen Reports, meanwhile, released a poll that showed more than half of the people surveyed didn’t hold Mr. Trump in a positive light — a finding that the pollster said doesn’t bode well for anyone eyeing the White House.

“A lot of the Republican contenders struggle because nobody knows who they are, so they have low support,” said Scott Rasmussen, founder and president of Rasmussen Reports. “With Donald Trump, 53 percent of the country already have a unfavorable opinion of you. That’s a tough way to run for president.”

Those negatives run contrary to the warm reception Mr. Trump has received in recent months, including at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he won a standing ovation after delivering a speech that bashed Mr. Obama’s tenure in the White House and repeated his claim that China should face taxes on imports until it stops manipulating its currency.

“And I can tell you this, if I run and if I win, this country will be respected again,” Mr. Trump told the crowd, sending them into a frenzy.

Since then, Mr. Trump has embarked on media blitz, where he has expressed doubts about the president’s birth certificate and whether Mr. Obama actually was born in Hawaii, reviving the so-called “birther” controversy that many have considered a dead issue.

Along the way, polls suggest, he has made himself into a top contender for the 2012 Republican nomination. The Real Clear Politics average of GOP presidential polls shows him running in third place behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

But many people wonder whether Mr. Trump is serious about running or simply is trying to score free press to promote his other business ventures, including the reality-TV series “The Apprentice.”

“I think Donald Trump is going to help his TV-show ratings,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

On Monday, Mr. Chocola sent an early-morning email blast that pointed to passages from Mr. Trump’s “The America We Deserve,” published in 2000, in which Mr. Trump advocates for universal health care, a single-payer health care system and a one-time tax increase on wealthy Americans and trusts to help close the national debt and shore up Social Security. Mr. Chocola also said Mr. Trump is wrong to call for heavy tariffs on Chinese imports.

“Donald Trump for president? You’ve got to be joking,” Mr. Chocola said in the email. “Donald Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge of how to create jobs. His love for a socialist-style universal health care system and his alarming obsession with protectionist policies are automatic disqualifiers among free-market conservatives. This publicity stunt will sputter and disappear just as quickly as the ‘The Apprentice’ is losing viewers.”

Afterward, in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Chocola, a former Republican congressman from Indiana, said it’s time for people to “focus on the substance, rather than the show” that is Mr. Trump.

“He’s a showman, and his competence in life is being a self-promoter, but what we need is someone whose competence is promoting pro-growth policy,” Mr. Chocola said. “This is serious business, and it is going to take a serious leader to address the problems we have, and he is not it.”

Others are taking a more wait-and-see approach.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he still has a lot to learn about Mr. Trump´s politics; however, he is under the impression that Mr. Trump plans to sign ATR’s no-new-tax pledge.

“If he is going to be running on a no-tax-increase platform and wants to run as a Reagan Republican, I think that would be good news,” he said. “I think he enlivens the race and raised the visibility, and if he has written and said things in the past, it’s fair to call him on it, and he needs to speak to it.”

John Zogby, an independent national pollster, said the big question for Mr. Trump is whether he is willing to go through the political grind necessary to be taken seriously in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“Is Donald Trump going to want to subject himself to clusters of three people, coffee klatches of 14? Are we going to see him stay in a Motel 6 and survive on cold turkey sandwiches?” he said. “If he is willing to do all that, all bets are off.”

Mr. Zogby, like Mr. Rasmussen, predicted there’s “very little chance Donald Trump stays a serious candidate.”

“Somehow, landing the big plane, with the entourage, the Beaujolais, that’s not made to order for Iowa or New Hampshire,” Mr. Zogby said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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