Just one day after the midterm elections, Donald Trump let it slip that he's "going to take a very serious look" at making a bid for the White House
Granted, for years he's floated the idea of running for president, but it seems this time could be different. I spoke to him in depth about his views on politics, the 2016 presidential field, and why he's moving closer to taking up the call.
"The reason that I'm looking at it very strongly this time is I'm so sick and tired of politicians. I am so sick and tired of watching these politicians who are all talk and no action. As an example, Benghazi, the IRS…I've just watched so much of the talk and the rhetoric and nothing gets done," Trump told me.
Trump said that he will be making the decision about whether to run in March or April, but I felt he gave some strong hints about which way he is leaning.
"I have an instinct for things. I think the country is ready for someone who gets it. I think the country is ready for somebody who can take it to greatness again," he said.
Some people will say this is just publicity stunt, a point he acknowledged.
"A lot of people think I'm having fun when I do this. I'm not. I can think of other things I can be doing…I love what I'm doing, and I'd be very happy if we had the right person," he said.
Separate to what he says, if you look at the time and effort he's already invested on the campaign trail, there's good reason to believe he's not bluffing.
Trump made three speeches this year to packed audiences in the all-important primary state of New Hampshire and actively supported candidates in tough races across the country. He is also due to give a speech in Iowa in January.
Thousands of people got an automated phone call from him in the final days before the election, and all of the candidates he made calls for ended up winning. (Maybe he just knows how to back a winner, but I can't help thinking people loved getting that call.)
Trump also made personal donations of over $100,000 to Republicans in 2014, maxing out his contributions to the party and donating to candidates in 20 states. He sent another $350,000 to the Republican Governors Association. And he has spent at least $1 million exploring the possibility of his own candidacy for 2016
(By the way, Trump's personal fortune
could have paid for the entire 2014 election cycle with plenty of change to spare: the total amount spent on the midterm elections by all candidates, party organizations, and outside groups came to an estimated $4 billion.)
Trump's political activity aside, it would be unnatural if he wasn't thinking of making a bid, considering the throngs of supporters on social media begging him to run every day.
But let's face it, in 2011 he whipped up lots of excitement that he was planning to launch a campaign, only to pull the plug saying business was his greatest passion and he wasn't ready to leave the private sector. Just three years on, I wondered if anything has materially changed.
"At the time, I was doing 'The Apprentice' which continues to be a big hit on television and is not so easily given up, but the timing is no longer complicated for me because we just finished filming our next version, so I no longer have the conflict of a major television show," he said. "It's like perfect timing."
He also said that both his family and his business are in a different place now.
"My children now are grown. They're very much involved in the business, which frankly a number of years ago you couldn't have really said to the same extent. I have them doing a great job and I have a lot of great executives who can handle what I'm doing. I have everything planned out so if I decide to do it I can," he said.
"The company has never been stronger, the numbers have never been better. It's the strongest it's ever been, we're well managed, so I would be free to do this if I wanted to do it."
So what would be the top three items on President Trump's agenda? End Obamacare and replace it with a better plan for less money; Strengthen the borders; Make our economy great again, which he said was "the thing I'd do better than anybody."
"When was the last time you heard anything good about our country? Never, for many years. We're falling apart," he said, listing the $18 billion national debt, the rise of ISIS, and the decline of America's international influence as examples.
"Here's the good news. We have tremendous potential and we have tremendous people if we put them to work. We have tremendous leaders that can be put into positions where they will be phenomenal. The days of Douglas MacArthur and Gen. Patton aren't over. We have others but we don't have the right people in place right now," he said.
Resigning Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, for example, has long been among those he believes never should have been appointed.
I happen to think a Trump candidacy is one that the Republican Party should do everything to encourage. From the way the GOP field appears now, he may just be the only person that could give the party a hope of beating Hillary Clinton to the White House in 2016.
No matter what happens, Trump will have an address on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016 when he completes the renovation of the Old Post Office, but there are several political realities that suggest he could also wind-up holding the keys to number 1600: millions of people know him and love him; the Republican field is not looking promising; and his brand may be the only thing that will give the GOP the luster it needs to win.
Trump has mass public appeal and Republicans also love him.
Trump's prime-time slot entertaining the public for ten years on "The Apprentice" series is a privilege that would long ago have disappeared if audiences didn't love him.
Then there's his 2.4 million followers on Twitter and the 1.6 million people who "like" him on Facebook. That pretty much covers the grassroots network.
When he does venture out for political appearances, people come out in droves. At a speech last year at a Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner in Michigan, 2,300 people attended, which was double the turnout
compared to the year before when former presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke.
There are also some hard figures that quantify his popularity with voters. The pollsters haven't been asking about Trump for the upcoming cycle (yet), but several polls were taken in 2011, just a year and a half before Mitt Romney went down in defeat. They showed astounding levels of support among the Republican Party base which decides the eventual nominee.
of Republican voters put him ahead of every other potential primary candidate by nine points, with 26 percent support. Another poll
had him tied for first place with Mike Huckabee in a primary.
Trump pointed out that all of the other contenders at the time were professional politicians who were spending millions of dollars on their candidacies.
"I didn't spend 10 cents and I was leading in the polls," he said.
So it seems we could have a potential candidate with mass public appeal that the party base would choose in a primary.
Why do people love him? I have my own list of reasons, starting with his authentic style, but perhaps he was able to put it best.
"I've been popular with a large group of people for a long period of time. Part of it is the success, part of it is what I say, and part of it is that they feel that I'm not somebody who can be ripped off and they're tired of being ripped off as a country," Trump told me, listing China, OPEC, and Mexico among the offenders.
"They're tired of seeing their taxes go to hell and the money be wasted. And they're tired of seeing the country in trouble."
Trump also feels he appeals to the man on the street.
"I walk down the street and people are screaming please run. I'm talking about taxi cab drivers and guys in hard hats. Those are the people that get along with me best. Those are my people. Those are the people I do best with. I'm giving it very strong consideration."
GOP Field Not Looking Promising
Trump said at this stage he doesn't see any other candidates that could step up to the challenges the country is facing, which would be a big motivation for why he would run.
"I'm not seeing it on either side. I don't know who's running yet. The last thing we need is another Bush, that's for sure. I'm not seeing it," he said.
If you look at the polling figures, the GOP has the biggest problem.
A poll out this summer
found that Hillary is far better known and better liked than every single one of 11 potential GOP contenders tested (not including Trump) with 91 percent of adults saying they know of her and 19 percent saying they view her favorably.
Jeb Bush and Chris Christie
are floated as potential front-runners in a national vote. They have the highest ratings of all the GOP contenders on name ID, but there's evidence to suggest that conservatives will prevent them from getting past a primary, remaining unconvinced that they pass the litmus test on key social issues
The candidates that the party base favors, such as Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee
, have little name ID among mainstream voters, while Clinton continues to be viewed significantly more favorably. And while their conservative positions make them popular with primary voters, it's doubtful that those positions appeal to the mainstream voters who decide the outcome of general elections.
"You never know what happens and you never know if Hillary will run. We need someone with immense power and strength to straighten out the mess that has become our country. I don't think Hillary has the strength."
The Republican Party needs a winning brand. Trump's brand could be the answer.
Finally, there's another big reason why the Republican Party should embrace a Trump candidacy and I think it's perhaps one thing he hasn't thought of: Republicans have a brand problem and Trump's brand could be the answer.
Sure, the GOP had a good showing at the election, but only because the party seemed less bad than the alternative.
, many of whom don't vote in the midterms but turn out and ultimately decide general elections, do not identify with a party associated with socially divisive single issue voters and its squabbling lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
A few days after the victories, the GOP's own chairman effectively admitted that the party has little hope of attracting enough mainstream voters to beat the Democrats in 2016.
But consider for a moment a ticket with Trump at the top. The Republican Party would be co-opting a brand synonymous with success, resilience, and optimism. A brand that represents the best ideals of the American dream. A brand that tells people that America can be great again…like a shining skyscraper upon a hill, so to speak.
No amount of money could buy that advantage.
So the only thing left to consider is whether Trump could realistically tolerate the unglamorous parts of being on the campaign trail, even if he is navigating the campaign trail via his $98.7 million private jet
"Yes, the air force is taken care of," he joked. "I could do it. I'm a strong guy," he said. "And if I do it, I'm going to do it all out."
The man with the Midas touch sounds to me like he has the makings of a winning presidential candidate. Will he do it? I'm putting my money on yes and it will be one very exciting beauty pageant.
Melanie Batley is a political journalist and host of "The Podium" on WAARadio. She also is a Huffington Post blogger. Previously she worked as a political operative on Republican campaigns and also as a political adviser to the Conservative Party in the UK. She earned her master's degree at the London School of Economics.
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