As if last year’s election results weren’t enough evidence that the Maryland Republican Party is leading a charmed life, look what happens when you schedule your largest fundraiser of the year with Donald Trump as your guest speaker: he decides to announce a presidential run just days before his scheduled appearance. It goes without saying that the media attention and kudos Baltimore County received from having fellow candidate Senator Rand Paul will also accrue to the state party. If the party draws a full house, I’m sure someone will try and take the credit for being smart enough to grab Trump as a speaker.
Yet there are also the possibilities that the room won’t be all that packed, Trump will deliver a horrific stump speech, or one of his hairs will slide out of place. Nor is it unprecedented to have a presidential aspirant at the event – Newt Gingrich was on the campaign trail when he keynoted the 2011 event. Maybe “the Donald” will actually start putting together an issues page for his campaign website based on what he reveals to the Maryland GOP next week, and hopefully we don’t find out he’s all sizzle and no steak when it comes to politics.
But the nice thing about all these happy coincidences is that Maryland may actually matter in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s not likely the field will be more than two to four by the time our primary rolls around on April 26, but we do have proximity to the major media markets. And while the attention is certainly on the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s a good time for campaigns to get their volunteers in order.
The question, though, is what Trump’s somewhat unexpected entry (after talking about running for several previous election cycles then backing away) means for the rest of the field.
Obviously we have the celebrity aspect to consider. Besides a bank account ample enough to self-fund a presidential run which could cost the winner $1 billion, the thing Trump brings to the race is instant name recognition – love him or hate him, one does not have to be a policy wonk to know the name. Political junkies like me know who John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham are, but the average guy on the street is only aware of two presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and (maybe) Jeb Bush. With Trump the GOP has star power, enough that few are talking about Jeb Bush’s formal entry into the fray yesterday.
That’s also important given the “top ten” debate rules in place for this cycle on the GOP side. While I had a better idea of multiple debates with randomly-selected groups of 5 to 7 apiece, there are now 12 formal entrants with Bobby Jindal slated to make it official next week and fellow governors Chris Christie and John Kasich still making noises about climbing into this free-for-all. Based on simple name recognition Trump should make that top ten easily and he better know how to deal with being on television.
The debate rule may be the key in culling the field before the summer is out. Those who are already starved for attention because they have no poll traction will probably see their campaigns wither on the vine because they can’t get into the debates.
And if Donald Trump alienates enough people, all his money won’t be able to buy him a spot. That will be the reason to watch his campaign as it unfolds, beginning next week with the Maryland GOP.