WASHINGTON: Donald Trump probably won’t win the Republican presidential nomination. Yet the other, more conventional GOP contenders can’t dismiss the outspoken billionaire in the run up to Iowa and New Hampshire because of his ability to steal the show.
PRWeek talked to Republican strategists about how his candidacy could affect other contenders and what they can do to avoid letting the billionaire reality TV star from hogging the spotlight, saying he shouldn’t be discounted.
Eric Fehrnstrom, partner at The Shawmut Group and former senior adviser and communications director for Mitt Romney, said via email that while he does not believe Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee, "I do think he will have his day in the sun."
"Trump has name recognition and money. There also is strong appeal inside the party for a non-politician outsider. Previously, Ben Carson had that constituency all to himself. Now he has to fight Trump for it," he wrote. "As for candidates who mock Trump today, they should be careful. They may find themselves trailing him tomorrow. Based on name recognition alone, we're going to see a poll shocker or two that shows Trump at or close to the top of the field."
Trump declared his candidacy on Tuesday in a long-running, off-book speech in New York City. Although he’s been dismissed by many observers, Trump’s announcement generated more buzz on social media than that of any other candidate other than Hillary Clinton. The real-estate magnate has also been accused of filling the event crowd at Trump Tower with actors.
On CNN on Tuesday, at least two political analysts said Trump’s bid was no more a political campaign than a marketing effort.
A candidate’s status will dictate whether he or she should engage with Trump. Those who "are secure in their position" are more likely to avoid him, while other, lesser-known names may take him on to boost their visibility, said Connie Mack, EVP at Levick and a former congressman from Florida.
"Donald Trump is the Howard Stern of this presidential race," said Mack. "He is like a shock jock, so there will be a small group of people who will attach themselves to Trump. The rest is going to be self-generated."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are separating themselves from the rest of the GOP pack, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Monday. Three quarters of respondents to the survey said they could see themselves voting for either candidate.
Mack added that he does not mean to count The Donald out just yet, noting there are candidates who leave a mark on a race even when they don’t win.
On the debate stage, Mack said the leading candidates will make an effort to "not get caught in a trap," and not allow Trump to lure them from their priorities. The reality-show star might "try to bully other candidates into his talking points," he added.
Time will tell if Trump is truly a "serious candidate," said Mack.
"I just hope that it doesn’t turn a debate about real issues into a side show," he said.