With a GOP field split between populists and managers in the 2012 presidential cycle, where would America's most famous boss fit on the spectrum?
Donald Trump, the multibillionaire real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV-star, expressed his interest in a White House run to Fox News last month. Despite perennial rumors of The Donald's presidential ambitions, he insisted that 2012 is "the first time I am being serious about it," and he said he would run on the Republican ticket.
This week, National Journal's Ronald Brownstein categorized the current assortment of GOP candidates from buttoned-down business types to fire-breathing anti-establishmentarians: "The populists thunder; the managers reassure," he wrote. "The populists stress their social values; the managers tout their economic competence. The populists rage at the elite; the managers mingle easily with them."
So, is Trump a man of the people, or a manager watching over the masses?
"He's sort of branded himself as the best of both worlds," said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "He's 'one of the guys.' He makes fun of himself, in movies and all over the place; he endorses products, many of which are by no means elitist kinds of things.
"But at the same time, he's also this no-nonsense multibillionaire who is not afraid to remind us of that fact," Thompson continued. "So he certainly has created this character for himself that taps into a lot of things that a lot of people might like."
Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy at New York University, disagreed, calling Trump a "more qualified" rendition of "Sarah Palin’s celebrity."
"Trump is in the business of marketing his name," Moss said. "He's neither a populist nor a manager; he's basically a celebrity. Americans love celebrities, but the problem with celebrities is, we have a lot of people who are just as qualified. You know, at that point the question is, ‘Why not Tom Brady?'"
Those within Trump’s own circle are the first to acknowledge his celebrity. Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, special counsel to Trump, and, independently, spearhead of the website ShouldTrumpRun.com, went so far as to call Trump’s name recognition “the one true benefit [Trump] has.”
“Most politicians entering the race spend a considerable amount of their war chest creating that recognition,” Cohen said. “Donald Trump doesn’t need that.”
Even so, while both Moss and Thompson said that it’s unlikely that a Trump candidacy would make it all the way to the White House, both agreed it could shake things up for those already considered viable candidates.
"What you're really seeing is that the Republican field is so wide-open and so weak—yet they feel Obama is vulnerable—that everybody is a potential candidate," Moss said.
Cohen said Trump will announce his decision in June 2011.
“It’s obviously not an easy decision,” he said. “You have to understand—he has an amazing life.... It’s not something he would readily give up, but he’s a true patriot, and he does see himself as the man who turned this country around.”
One thing Americans can count on, Thompson notes:
"If he becomes a candidate, the amount of times we'll have to hear 'you’re fired' might be enough to make me want to move."