Donald Trump ended years of flirtation and jumped into the presidential campaign Tuesday, casting himself as the ultimate maverick and vowing to use his turnaround-artist powers, honed on his own financial resurrection, to rescue the nation from clueless politicians “selling this country down the drain.”
In typical tough talk — an act he has perfected on “The Apprentice,” his reality TV show — he deemed the current crop of leaders in the country “losers” and laid out a series of bumper-sticker solutions, including tapping a Patton-esque leader for the Pentagon, becoming the greatest job-producing president in history and building a border wall to stop illegal immigration.
“Sadly, the American dream is dead,” Mr. Trump said from atop an American flag-filled stage inside his iconic Trump Tower skyscraper in New York City. “But if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”
The announcement ended years of speculation over whether Mr. Trump — who has made, lost and regained a fortune in real estate, has his own signature line of suits, shirts and neckties at Macy’s, and famously challenged President Obama’s claim to American birth — would ever take the plunge at which he coquettishly hinted.
The man known colloquially as “The Donald” already polls well enough to secure a space in the first sanctioned Republican primary debate in August, which is being capped at 10 candidates, and likely will push one of the more established politicians off the stage.
Mr. Trump mocked some of those opponents, particularly Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who he said have stumbled in articulating their policies on Iraq.
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“How are these people going to lead us?” Mr. Trump said. “How are we going to go back and make it great again? We can’t. They don’t have a clue. They can’t lead us. They can’t. They can’t even answer simple questions. It was terrible.”
Mr. Trump said his personal wealth — which he pegged at over $8.7 billion — will shield him from the donors, lobbyists and special interests that control most politicians.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”
He said wealth would insulate him from pressure from corporate titans who would be able to cow other candidates but would not be able to sway him from following through on promises such as slapping a 35 percent tax on vehicles built outside the U.S. and imported into the country.
Mr. Trump pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he labeled “the big lie”; strengthen Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cutting benefits; scrap K-12 Common Core education standards; rescind Mr. Obama’s executive deportation amnesty; and move to secure the nation’s border with Mexico.
“Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively,” he said. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
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Pundits lamented his entrance, saying he would reduce an already thin political discourse to bad-idea sound bites, while Democrats gleefully welcomed him as an upgrade to the list of Republican contenders.
“Today, Donald Trump became the second major Republican candidate to announce for president in two days,” said Holy Shuman, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. “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.”
Republicans, meanwhile, expressed concern that Mr. Trump could hurt the party’s goal of winning back the White House — especially if he ends up gaining a place in the debates and ousting someone who strategists think would make a more credible candidate.
“Debates should be a moment when serious candidates discuss serious issues. Eliminating some of those serious candidates to make room for celebrities, no matter how entertaining, would not serve that purpose,” said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based Republican Party strategist who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Nationally, Mr. Trump is outpolling former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the runner-up in the 2012 race; and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the field. He also is outpacing Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has yet to announce, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to announce his candidacy on June 24.
Former Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said he hopes Mr. Trump’s candidacy helps persuade the Republican National Committee to rethink its limit on the number of participants in the opening debate, which will be hosted by Fox News.
“He is a character, and he is going to get press and coverage, but he is not going to get votes,” Mr. Gregg said. “If Fox continues to hang on to their fairly foolish approach, where they use polling data, yeah, he could easily knock someone else. He has massive name recognition. That is why it is so stupid to do this polling thing.
“The fact that Donald Trump will poll large enough to knock out maybe, say, a Kasich, who is truly a very legitimate candidate and will be one of our stronger candidates before this is over, is absurd,” he said.
Mark Weaver, an Ohio-based Republican Party consultant, said Mr. Trump could have strong enough name recognition to be included in the first debate but will have to do more than tout his personal wealth to be taken seriously.
“The way Donald Trump could convince the political world he is serious would be to purchase his first $300 million in television ads next week,” Mr. Weaver said. “Actually spend the dollars, not just quote how much he has.”