April 21, 2011

Two media-seeking individuals recently garnered attention as potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates. First, Donald Trump has received a lot of attention as he claims he is thinking about running. He has made this claim before, which leads many to believe that he just does it to get attention (to sell books or get better ratings for "The Apprentice"). His solid embrace of the "birther" claims, which have been throughly debunked by numerous independent fact-checkers, suggests he might actually be running--after all, why hurt your brand with crazy ideas if you are not actually going to run. Trump's sudden rise to the top of some polls says less about Trump (which he probably hates to hear) and more about the problem of Republican primary voters. While most Americans accept the facts about Barack Obama's birthplace, a large segment of Republican primary voters do not--meaning they might blow the election by demanding candidates share the obsession with conspiracy theories (what's next, the claim that Obama came here in a UFO?). If Republicans want to win, they should instead focus on policy disagreements with Obama. Trump's quick rise in the polls also raises interesting questions for conservative evangelicals. Can "the Donald" overcome his history of divorces and affairs (not to mention ego and love of mammon). Additionally, although he is claiming to be a conservative, he recently botched a critical question related to abortion that will likely concern many conservatives. However, Trump clearly seems to understand the nature of our age of confessional politics and is quickly speaking out in highly Christian terms. Trump met recently with Ralph Reed (former head of the Christian Coalition) and Tony Perkins (head of the Family Research Council), which suggests he is working hard to get support from key conservative evangelicals. Trump also sat down for an extensive interview with CBN (which was founded by Pat Robertson). Among his claims in the interview:

I believe in God. I am Christian. I think the Bible is certainly, it is the book, it is THE thing.
... First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, that's where I went to church. I'm a Protestant. I'm a Presbyterian.
... Well I go [to church] as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there's a major occasion. And during the Sundays. I'm a Sunday church person. I'll go when I can.
He also claimed during the interview that Reed and Perkins were intrigued by him and that he thought he could gain support of evangelicals because they want to win. Of course, it seems more likely that despite what conservative evangelical leaders may say, many people in the pews will look at Trump's lifestyle and instead say, "you're fired!"

The second individual getting some attention--not as much as Trump but much more than someone with his political experience would normally get--is Roy Moore. On Monday, Moore announced he was starting a presidential exploratory committee to consider running. Moore, who was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court, must like being rocked by the voters. He badly lost twice in races to garner the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Alabama. I analyzed the rhetoric surrounding his 2003 attempt to save his 5-ton idol monument in a study published last year in the K.B. Journal, and wrote about how his political failures demonstrate problems with movement politics in a column last year in the Birmingham News. Apparently looking for the same attention that Trump is getting, the only thing on Moore's "qualifications" page on Monday was his birth certificate (which apparently means he has not done anything since being born that would make him a good president). Moore will not win the Republican nomination--and will not even come close--but he might help splinter the conservative evangelical vote and therefore could still impact who the nominee is. Moore does, after all, have the ability to utilize the confessional political style.