Trump Talk: Serious Candidate or Negotiating Ploy?

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

Will Donald Trump run for president or won’t he? Conflicting reports and Trump’s own skill at sidestepping the question even while turning up constantly in TV interviews make the question impossible to answer.

Here’s what we mean: Just this week, an unnamed NBC executive told Entertainment Weekly that he and his fellow network execs think Trump’s talk about running for president is “a stunt.” But then, on Wednesday morning, The Wall Street Journal had a story headlined “Trump Candidacy for White House Gaining Ground” that reports, among other things, that Trump is headed to Iowa – that key state for potential candidates of any party – to headline an important Republican fundraising dinner in June.

Watch: Busey Goes Bust on “Celebrity Apprentice”

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“Originally, they said, ‘Oh, Trump is just having a good time’,” Trump said in the Journal story. “Then they were saying, ‘Well, this is getting interesting.’ Then, as of today, they are really taking it seriously. I’m not playing games. I am totally serious.”

The statement was not, of course, an official announcement that he’s running. It is, though, a pretty clear statement that he’s serious about exploring a potential candidacy. Still, the network he works for – NBC – as the star of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” isn’t taking him as seriously as some Iowa Republicans.

“We at the network have no idea whether Trump is serious about [running for president] or not,” EW quotes its unnamed NBC exec as saying. “He won’t tell even us – and we haven’t pushed because we’ve just decided it is whatever it is. If he wants to spout off about things, we’re happy to let him. But our inclination is that he’s not serious about running for president. We think it’s a stunt.”

EW thinks it’s a stunt too. Their writer’s take is that Trump is out there attracting publicity for himself in order to drive up the ratings for the current run of “Celebrity Apprentice,” which, in turn, could drive up his price when it comes to negotiating future cycles for “The Apprentice” and the “Celebrity” version. Indeed, the story points out that ratings for “The Apprentice” are up this spring.

For his part, Trump has said that if he decides to run, he’ll quit the show and give up his prime-time stardom. He sounds serious, but not everyone is taking him seriously. Tuesday morning on “Good Morning America,” he faced tough questions from George Stephanopoulos on the so-called “birther” issue concerning President Obama’s birth-origins. It’s an issue Trump has taken up lately, and he stuck to his guns when Stephanopoulos flatly stated there is no issue and insisted that documentary evidence proves Obama was born in Hawaii. Trump disagreed, but the long-range problem for him is that some mainstream Republican leaders, such as Karl Rove, think his emphasis on the birther controversy is a no-win issue that would doom his candidacy.

There are also those who apparently think Trump lacks the gravitas necessary to inspire voters, get elected and lead the country. One such detractor is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who once said he gets “a thrill running” up his leg when he hears Barack Obama make a speech. Tuesday on “Hardball,” Matthews showed a video in which he strung together clips of Trump using the phrase “excuse me” in an interview on the “Today” show.

Matthews apparently thought this was hilarious. But it’s Trump who could have the last laugh.

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