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US Republicans Divided on Trump Presidential Run

Billionaire Donald Trump speaks to a crowd at the 2011 Palm Beach County Tax Day Tea Party at Sanborn Square in Boca Raton, Florida, April 16, 2011

New York real estate mogul and television celebrity Donald Trump is getting a lot of attention in the United States as he flirts with the idea of running in the Republican Party’s presidential primaries next year. But the prospect of a Trump candidacy for the White House is already dividing Republicans.

Advantage as celebrity

Donald Trump has a major advantage over some of his Republican rivals in that his television show has made him an instantly recognizable celebrity.

That has helped Trump soar to near the top of several recent public opinion polls gauging early support among several Republicans considering a run for president next year.

Trump is showing support among activists of the Tea Party movement, who are most concerned with cutting the federal budget deficit and reducing the size of the central government.

Support of Tea Party

Trump spoke at a recent Tea Party rally in Florida.

"The world is laughing at us. They are laughing at our leaders. They are taking advantage of us, and it is a disgrace," he said. "If I run and win, our country will be respected again and China, OPEC and all of the many nations that are ripping off this great country of ours will be dealt with very, very differently."

Trump says he will decide on a presidential bid by June. In the meantime, some Republicans like Trump’s brash style and believe that he stands out in the slowly developing field of Republican candidates.

"He is honest and says what is on his mind, and I don’t feel like he is lying to me, or trying to pull the wool over my head," said a woman, who attended Trump’s speech in Florida.

Challenging Obama's birth place

Donald Trump poses outside his Chicago offices and his 92-story residential tower underconstruction on the Chicago River in this, April 10, 2006, file photo.
Donald Trump poses outside his Chicago offices and his 92-story residential tower underconstruction on the Chicago River in this, April 10, 2006, file photo.

Trump is also causing a stir by challenging the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate, which says the president was born in Hawaii in 1961.

"Obama is unwilling or unable to show his birth certificate," he said.

State officials in Hawaii have authenticated the birth document, and two local newspapers printed birth announcements within days of Obama’s birth. The U.S. Constitution says only natural born citizens of the United States are eligible to be president.

Several prominent Republicans have criticized Trump’s focus on the birth certificate as foolish and counter-productive.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is also considering a run for president next year. She told ABC’s Good Morning America that she is convinced that the president’s birth documents are genuine.

"Well then, that should settle it," said Bachmann. "I take the president at his word."

Trump's political ability questioned

Trump’s focus on the so-called ‘birther’ issue is only one reason why some prominent Republicans are speaking out against his candidacy.

Former Utah Senator Bob Bennett supports former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for president, though Romney has yet to formally announce his candidacy.

Bennett says the interest in Trump by some Republicans reflects a degree of unhappiness with the possible contenders who are signaling interest in running next year.

"There is no unanimity as we have often seen before," he said. "There is no obvious frontrunner. Now, they are saying, 'well, let’s try a new face.' Certainly, the latest one in terms of Donald Trump demonstrates absolutely no understanding whatsoever of what it would take to be president of the United States."

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll found that 56 percent of Republicans surveyed were not enthusiastic about any of the potential Republican contenders.

Trump - potential liability for party

Republican analysts predict that if Trump does run, his business record and personal past will be carefully scrutinized by the news media and rival candidates, including his past statements in favor of abortion rights and some tax increases.

Former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards is now with the Aspen Institute in Washington.

"I don’t think Donald Trump should be taken seriously, but he does," said Edwards. "And he has now changed his position on almost everything to move much farther to the right, because it doesn’t matter about the general [presidential] election. First you have to get through the [Republican[ primaries."

Will Trump run?

Many political experts question whether Trump will even run in the end.

"He is an outspoken, populist, well-known guy. And so he is appealing in some ways for an electorate that is looking around for somebody new," said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. "But I think that his time here, his moment in the sun, is going to be relatively short. He may run. He may be part of the field. But his likelihood of winning is pretty small."

In the CBS News/New York Times poll, 72 percent of voters said they do not think Donald Trump is a serious candidate. The survey also showed Republicans are split on a Trump candidacy. Thirty-five percent viewed Trump favorably, 32 percent viewed him unfavorably and 33 percent were either undecided or did not know enough about him to form an opinion.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.