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GOP insiders embrace Trump's presidential bid

By Charles Babington

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 19 2011 1:16 a.m. MDT

McCall said Trump "is saying on the national stage what other people won't talk about."

That includes holding forth on trade, China and oil dependency. But Trump's biggest buzz stems from his embrace of the claim that Obama wasn't born in the United States, and therefore is constitutionally barred from being president.

Documents, including Obama's birth certificate, show he was born in Hawaii in 1961.

Several Republican activists said they don't care much about Obama's birthplace, but they're tired of waiting for the more establishment-backed challengers to challenge the president often and fiercely. For some, Trump fills that void.

In New Hampshire, Republican activist Phyllis Woods of Dover said she was surprised by the commotion Trump is causing. "Whether Donald Trump is going to be taken as a serious candidate here is an open question," she said. What is certain, she said, is that "we're going to have a huge field."

Woods said she detects "a growing undercurrent of support" for Bachmann, a comment echoed by several Iowa and South Carolina activists. "She is a fresh face and a fresh voice," Woods said.

Bachmann seems to have eclipsed Palin as the most discussed, if sometimes gaffe-prone, provocateur among tea party conservatives.

Democratic strategists and Obama supporters watch these developments with bewilderment, and a vague sense that they won't last. They say they can't predict who will be the nominee, but more traditional candidates such as Romney, Pawlenty or Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour seem more plausible than, say, Trump. Political insiders would not be stunned if Bachmann won the caucus in her native Iowa, and Gingrich could do well in places, including South Carolina.

Not all GOP insiders embrace Trump.

"You've got Donald Trump on TV making a fool of himself," said Leigh Macneil, the Republican chairman in New Hampshire's Merrimack County. Macneil said Trump is filling a regretful vacuum because more mainstream candidates are holding back. "We're looking for people who will step up," he said. He wishes more outspoken, forceful candidates would jump in, especially New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.

"My dream ticket would be Christie-Pence," Macneil said.

Others seem happy with their choices.

"It's a wide open field," and that's fine, said Kathy Pearson, a longtime party activist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She said Trump is "a TV celebrity and obviously a successful businessman" who is "saying what he thinks."

"What's going on right now is very good, very healthy for the process," said Cindy Costa, South Carolina's Republican National Committeewoman. Voters want "someone who is a good leader and understands business." She has long admired Romney, she said, and "I've been pleasantly surprised" by Trump. "He's actually more conservative than I had thought."

Trump's three marriages don't seem to be a major issue among conservatives, for now at least.

"All his ex-wives are happy," said Joni Scotter, a Republican activist from Marion, Iowa. Ordinarily, she said, GOP caucus voters "are hard on people who are divorced."

She said she hopes the thrice-married Gingrich receives the same generosity.

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