Four years ago, New York felt like the center of the next presidential election. The whole world thought the final match-up would be Hillary Clinton vs. Rudy Giuliani. New Yorker vs. New Yorker! Boy, were we hot.
Fast forward four years and we're stuck with Donald Trump.
No, not really.
Well yes, sort of. Trump has dispatched and aide to Iowa and is telling one and all he is "very seriously" considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination.
At this point, The Donald is in approximately the same state of availability as Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. And let's face it, he's at least as interesting.
Politically, Trump has done more head-spinning than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. He started as a Republican and then switched to being an independent in 1999 in a faux run for the Reform Party's presidential nomination. In 2001, he became a Democrat. It was in his capacity as a registered Democrat that he violently denounced President Bush as a liar and called the Iraq war a "total catastrophe."
Then, in 2009, Trump came back to the GOP fold. "I am a good, solid Republican," the hair-challenged mogul now says.
Let's establish our state of disbelief by pointing to just one issue, which will be a huge one in the early GOP primary states: abortion.
In 1989, he co-sponsored a dinner in New York honoring the president emeritus of the National Abortion Rights Action League. A decade later, during his ersatz bid for the Reform Party's presidential nomination, Trump was still backing abortion rights.
But now, he's "pro-life."
Given that history, are we surprised that there's suspicion about whether he's serious? Nah.
Can you imagine Donald Trump going to Iowa like Newt Gingrich, to assure the social conservatives that his action-packed marital history is irrelevant now that he's found God? Nah.
No, Trump will not trudge through the snow from town hall to town hall in New Hampshire, answering the same questions over and over and courting a press corps that, in the early stages, will include about six people, two of them Norwegian bloggers.
He will not get on the telephone and court the Republican town committee chairs in the early primary states, listening patiently as they explain their ideas on what to do about entitlement reform.
Not going to happen. But we're missing the point - of both Trump and this year's Republican presidential contest.
The Donald Trump we know today is a far cry from the publicity-hungry real estate developer who blew into the national consciousness in the 1980s. The 21st century Donald is basically about product placement.
His TV show, Celebrity Apprentice, is just an excuse to send the contestants out to extol the glories of a particular brand of cupcake or hand lotion. In exactly the same line, his pseudo presidential candidacy is all about burnishing the Trump legend and the Trump name, all the better to rent it out in the future.
And he's far from the only guy in the field who's doing this.
Mike Huckabee, who actually came in second in the 2008 primaries when it came to delegate count, is now a talk show host, cruise director, and all-purpose celebrity whose main political concern seems to be protecting his right to remain a Fox News star while he dances around the presidential race.
Even Gingrich, who last year certainly seemed serious about running, is now so entangled in his various publication and promotion deals that he couldn't even bring himself to come out and say he was a candidate on the appointed day last week.
Now that I think of it, the entire race for the nomination is beginning to look more and more like a Celebrity Apprentice contest. People you haven't seen on TV in years (Buddy Roemer?) suddenly appear out of nowhere, discuss their falls from grace and rehabilitation - Newt does his marriage, Huckabee his weight loss - and then try to gang up on the villain contestant. (Mitt Romney will be playing Richard Hatch.)
Trump should be in his element - the world where everything is played slightly tongue in cheek and where the one important truth is that Rich People Are Better. The winner will be given a trip for two to Costa Rica and $100,000 for the charity of his choice.
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