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Birther of a Campaign

The Donald takes New Hampshire.

May 9, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 32 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Portsmouth, N.H.

Birther of a Campaign

Thomas Fluharty

For months now, real estate mogul and television personality Donald Trump has terrified the country by threatening to run for president. Trump says he won’t make any final decisions until May 22, when NBC plans to air the season finale of his game show, Celebrity Apprentice. But he’s certainly been acting like a candidate. He’s consulted with pollsters and campaign strategists. He’s cobbled together a platform: trade war with China and​—​this is not a joke​—​pillaging the countries America invades. He made a surprise appearance at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference. A couple of weeks ago he tried to sweet-talk Charles Krauthammer (no luck).

Above all, Trump has been attacking​—​bashing, pummeling, verbally assaulting​—​Barack Obama. He treats the president like the mutant offspring of Omarosa and Rosie O’Donnell. Obama’s birth certificate, college grades, leadership abilities, economic and foreign policies, basic motor skills​—​there’s nothing about this president that Donald Trump won’t question, mock, or subject to scathing criticism. As the other likely GOP candidates play Hamlet, brooding over their campaigns and debating the precise legal definition of “exploratory committee,” Trump has taken a hole-punch to the president’s reputation. And Republicans love it. Trump is neck-and-neck with Mike Huckabee, at the front of the pack of Republican 2012 hopefuls, in the Real Clear Politics poll of polls.

Still, Trump is not one to ignore his true constituency: the media. The klieg lights, camera crews, and print and television correspondents were out in force last week when Trump spent a day campaigning here. In the morning everyone assembled inside a windowless hangar at a Portsmouth air terminal. The vast room was crowded with small aircraft. A microphone bank had been placed in front of the closed hangar door. More than a dozen cameras were arrayed in a semicircle before it.

There are nine months until the Granite State primary, but Trump had attracted a presidential-sized gaggle. The only ones not there were the foreign press, but they probably just missed their connection. Space was so tight that print journalists, sandwiched between the television crews and mikes, sat Indian-style on the concrete flooring like kindergartners at story time. Every now and then a reporter would walk to the lobby, where he’d gaze out the window and search for Trump’s helicopter in the cloudy sky.

A few minutes before Trump arrived, word spread that President Obama had decided to release his long-form birth certificate. The timing couldn’t have been accidental: Trump was the most famous “birther” in the land, searching for Obama’s true identity on the Today show, The View, and (among other places) Hannity. Two days earlier he’d told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the document was “missing.” Guess not.

The huge hangar door began to rise. As it opened, inch by inch, one could see the tarmac, then the helicopter​—​the name “Trump” emblazoned on its side, in case he forgot where he parked​—​and finally the Donald himself, surrounded by aides and security guards. Trump knows how to make an entrance. He strode purposefully to the microphones and surveyed the scene. “Wow,” he said. His reddish blond hair was tossed across his scalp. He wore an ill-fitting black suit with a red power tie. He gazed into the cameras. “Whenever you’re ready,” he said. The cameramen jiggered with the machinery. Trump waited patiently for his cue. A few seconds later he got it.

“Good morning,” he said in his New York monotone. “Today I’m very proud of myself, because I’ve been able to accomplish something that no one else has been able to accomplish.” The release of Obama’s birth certificate, Trump said, was nothing less than a capitulation. “I want to look at it,” he said, “but I hope it’s true. He should’ve done it a long time ago. I feel like I’ve accomplished something really, really important. And I’m honored by it.” Trump 1, Obama 0.

Trump grew wistful at the mention of New Hampshire. “It’s a place that I’ve always liked and have been to many times,” he said. In 1988, a friend here had asked him to deliver a speech on success. Trump obliged. “The buzz was unbelievable,” he said. “It was great.” A political career was born​—​23 years later.

Trump has as much respect for the press as your average American, which is to say, none. “Why don’t you announce?” someone asked.

“Are you an intelligent person?” Trump replied. “I hate saying it because it sounds trivial, but I have a very, very successful show on television.” Later, the same reporter asked why Trump opposed the stimulus. “Look, I know you like Obama,” Trump said, and moved on.

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