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2012: What Donald Trump says about the GOP

FILE - In this April 5, 2011 file photo, Donald Trump attends the 'Dressed To Kilt' fashion show to benefit the Friends of Scotland Organization at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. (AP)

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann
*** What Donald Trump says about the GOP: As Donald Trump’s 15 minutes extend to 15 days -- and possibly 15 weeks, if he does end up running for president -- the inevitable question is getting asked: Why is someone who’ll probably never be president, let alone the GOP nominee, receiving so much attention? Part of it is Trump’s celebrity (remember that Warren Beatty attracted a considerable amount of buzz when he was mulling a White House bid). Part of it is the media (that have zeroed in on him the same way they did to Sarah Palin and even Christine O’Donnell). But most of it has to do with the Republican Party. As Politico’s Martin writes, Trump is filling an appetite of a particularly vocal part of the GOP base that wants a presidential candidate who will offer "who will offer no-holds-barred criticism of Obama." Martin adds, "With no other Republican hopefuls gaining traction, Trump has become a blinking neon stand-in for a candidate who will go beyond mainstream boundaries and make the case for why Obama isn’t just a bad president presiding over a declining America but perhaps an illegitimate one."

*** “No one in the field excites me right now”: Conservative writer David Frum makes a similar point, describing the type of Republican voter who would find Trump appealing. “What you want is a candidate who will take the fight to Obama. Really fight him. Mitt Romney? He’s no fighter. He’s a CEO, and you’ve had it with CEOs. Mike Huckabee? Seems like a nice guy, but if you want a sermon, you’ll go to church. Now this guy Donald Trump, he’s kind of a blowhard. But he hates Obama just as much as you do. You don’t take the birth certificate thing seriously, but if it annoys the liberals, what the hell.” (By the way, the latest New York Times/CBS poll finds that 47% of Republican voters believe, incorrectly, that Obama was born in an another country.)  Another component fueling Trump right now: a lack of enthusiasm for the entire GOP field right now. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) summed it up in an interview with the AP: "I'll tell you, right now: No one in the field excites me right now."

*** Santorum’s big swing: Next week, Rick Santorum embarks a major campaign swing that makes it seem like it’s 20 days until the Iowa caucuses, instead of the actual 290-plus days. On Monday, it’s to Goose Lake, IA. On Tuesday, it’s Dubuque, IA, Dyersville, IA, and Cedar Rapids, IA. On Wednesday, Santorum heads to Marshalltown, IA. On Thursday, it’s to DC for a foreign-policy speech. On Friday, he speaks at the NRA’s annual meeting in Pittsburgh and then heads to Manchester, NH. And on Saturday, he delivers remarks at another event in New Hampshire. That’s nine events in six days in three states (plus DC).

*** Johnson enters the ring: At 9:00 am ET in Concord, NH, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is expected to announce that he'll be the latest Republican to enter the presidential race. He holds a media avail in Concord at 10:00 am, another media avail in Manchester, NH at 2:00 pm, and a kick-off event in Manchester at 7:00 pm. At best, the libertarian Johnson will be the 2012 version of Ron Paul. At worst, he'll be Mike Gravel. Johnson favors the legalization of marijuana and a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants, and he opposes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- all of which puts him at odds with much of the GOP base. Where he isn't at odds: Johnson supports lower taxes and limited government.

Other clips...

“With less than a year to go before the Iowa caucuses, Republican voters have yet to form strong opinions about most of their potential candidates for president in 2012, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Only those possible contenders who regularly appear on television — or have made bids before — are well known enough to elicit significant views from their fellow Republicans. And of that group, only one, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, is viewed favorably by more than half of the Republican electorate.

Also: “A plurality of Republican voters, 47 percent, said they believed Mr. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was born in another country; 22 percent said they did not know where he was born, and 32 percent said they believed he was born in the United States.”

National Journal’s Reid Wilson notes that there are substantive policy differences between the potential GOP candidates -- more so than there were in 2008 -- but most of those significant debates have been ignored so far as shiny political objects dominate much of the media coverage of the race.

(However, in 2008, you had one top-tier candidate who supported abortion rights -- Giuliani -- another who supported comprehensive immigration reform -- McCain -- and another who had previously supported abortion rights and stem-cell research -- Romney. That seems to us like more ideological diversity than we’ll see from the GOP field in 2012.)

Donald Trump may say he's looking forward to showing the world his "huge" financials, but no one else in the field is really all that jazzed about shining a light on their tax returns. "A POLITICO survey of the major GOP hopefuls found that none are promising to making their tax returns public, as then-candidate Obama did in 2007 and 2008 — as well as during his Senate campaign in 2004 and later in 2006."

PAWLENTY: The S&P's negative warning about the U.S. credit rating is highlighting each potential GOP candidate's own track record, and it's not great news for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "Almost all of the GOP presidential hopefuls with gubernatorial experience can boast upgraded credit ratings for their respective states during their tenure in office, with the exception of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty," writes The Hill.

ROMNEY: The former Massachusetts governor accused the White House of "laughing off" the news from S&P and urged Obama to meet with the ratings agency himself. "In my own view, this is not something to be laughed off as the president’s people seem to be doing. The president really ought to personally sit down and meet with S&P."