With the first Republican presidential debate two days away, Donald Trump is leading his nearest competitor in the national polls by as much as 12 points. In Iowa, the Real Clear Politics poll average puts him in second behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but in the most recent poll of the race, Trump took a commanding 30.9 percent of the vote in a 16-candidate field. As GQ's Drew Magary notes, Trump's comments about Mexicans, China, and many of his opponents have fueled his rise in the state.
So what kind of crack campaign operation does Trump have in the first-in-the-nation caucus state? Who is the dark-arts practitioner responsible for helping a New York City billionaire win the hearts and minds of America's heartland?
Actually, the linchpin of Trump's Iowa strategy isn't a politico at all—she's a former reality TV star who not so long ago starred in infomercials for Bedazzler. Meet Tana Goertz, Iowa co-chair of Trump for President:
On her website, Goertz also hawks a children's book based on her own "inspirational tale" called I'm Bigger Than This; a gray t-shirt, with "ENTREPRENEUR 24/7 365" inscribed on it; an audio CD of business advice she recorded called "Fake it til you make it!"; and information about an Apprentice-like program she runs for kids called "Kids Apprentice Program." The program is "designed to serve children who are self-motivated future leaders" by offering them boardroom experience and forcing them to do "Apprentice-like tasks." For $50, you too could raise the next Donald Trump.
Goertz, who bills herself as the candidate's "hype girl" who "fires up the crowd and educates Iowans on how great he is," was hired by Trump in July. But their relationship wasn't always so strong. After Trump fired her from TheApprentice in 2005, Goertz condemned the show's process. "It was all bullshit," she told a local news station.
Evidently they made amends. Goertz's site boasts multiple testimonials from Trump ("Tana is truly a star!"), and you can even watch her audition tape, in which she tries to sell Mary Kay cosmetics products to middle-aged men:
So this is what it looks like when Donald Trump stays home. The businessman and board game magnate, who is currently leading the Republican presidential field by a mile, skipped the first full candidate forum of the 2016 presidential race on Monday in New Hampshire. His official reason: the host newspaper, New Hampshire's Union-Leader, had already signaled that it wasn't interested in endorsing his campaign. But maybe he had an inkling of what we know for certain now—14 candidates racing against the clock to recite canned talking points makes for a total snoozefest.
The moderator, Jack Heath, deliberately steered clear of any Trump-related questions, which is a shame, because Trump, even in absentia, might have have at least forced the candidates to talk about something besides themselves. As it was, Monday's forum, the first of three such Q&A sessions in early primary states and a dress rehearsal of sorts for the first GOP debate on Thursday, was like freshman orientation in a class of introverts. The candidates were provided the most generic of icebreaker questions (Carly Fiorina was asked for an example of a time she showed leadership), which they promptly segued away from, and pivoted to the boilerplate speeches they've already been delivering in Iowa and New Hampshire for months. Because it was a forum, not a debate, the candidates weren't allowed to interact with each other. Save for Scott Walker noting that no one in his family had been president before, none of them even tried. In a rare moment of drama, the C-SPAN cameras caught Chris Christie with a finger (his) wiggling in his ear.
But there were still a handful of highlights:
Four years after famously forgetting the third federal agency he intended to eliminate, former Texas governor Rick Perry was offered a shot at a do-over. "I've heard this question before!" he said eagerly. Then he pivoted to another topic and never answered it.
Jeb Bush said the president needs to do more to combat the "barbarians" of ISIS, but perhaps wary of unpleasant comparisons to that other Bush (or both of them, really), stopped short of saying "boots on the ground" were needed in the Middle East beyond special forces troops.
Fortunately, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was happy to do just that, calling on an America-Turkish-Egyptian force to bring Syria back under control. He'd tell those allies, "You're gonna pay for this war, we paid for the last two. We are gonna pull the caliphate up by its roots."
Graham, who could surely use the boost, also got a laugh from the audience when he suggested that the solution to Washington's gridlock was to "drink more."
Ben Carson announced that he would reform the tax code by consulting with "the fairest individual in the universe—that would be God." The result, he explained, would be a base tax rate of around 10 to 15 percent, similar to a church tithe. But an hour later, he informed the audience that taking more than 10 percent of a billionaire's income is "called socialism."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said President Obama has "declared war on trans-fats and a ceasefire with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism." (That would be Iran.) His first act as president: hold a huge meeting with the Joint Chiefs to announce that America "is back."
Much has been made of the Republican party's recent shift toward criminal justice reform, which includes lighter sentencing for many drug crimes. But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio offered a snapshot on how elements of the party might push back. Seizing on northern New England's heroin epidemic, he reprised an argument that any legalization of marijuana except for strictly medicinal uses would only contribute to drug abuse. Expect this to come up again at a later date, when candidates are allowed to talk to each other.
How will the next president's policies on climate change be affected by the White House's big new plan to fight global warming? We still have no idea, because only one candidate was asked about the proposal, and then only in passing. For the record, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says it will be a "buzzsaw to the nation's economy."
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told supporters in Iowa on Thursday that if he were elected president he would consider using the FBI or National Guard to end abortion by force. Per the Topeka Capital-Journal:
"I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this," Huckabee said at the event, where a Topeka Capital-Journal correspondent was present.
At his next stop, in Rockwell City, Huckabee answered follow-up questions from the correspondent, saying: "All American citizens should be protected."
Asked by another reporter how he would stop abortion, and whether this would mean using the FBI or federal forces to accomplish this, Huckabee replied: "We'll see if I get to be president."
That's crazy. The right to an abortion has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Huckabee is saying he might simply disregard the judicial branch and stop the practice unilaterally—that is, he'd remove the checks from "checks and balances." It's not the first time he's proposed a constitutional crisis as an antidote to things he doesn't like. Huckabee has also said states should practice civil disobedience by ignoring the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.
The pro-Chris Christie super-PAC America Leads raised $11 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to filings released by the Federal Election Commission on Friday. Controversial hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen gave $1 million. Cleveland Cavaliers owner (and Quicken Loans chief) Dan Gilbert gave $750,000. Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and WWE magnate Linda McMahon each dropped $250,000. New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon dropped $100,000 that his team's fans dearly wish he'd spent on an outfielder.
Oh, and it's hardly the biggest donation on the list, but America Leads also got $10,000 from an unusual source—a media company. The check came from American Media Inc., the parent company of supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, OK!, and Star; and fitness publications like Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness; and Flex. What's the Christie connection? In June, the governor named American Media Inc.'s chairman, David Pecker, to his presidential leadership team.
We can't speak for Flex, but the normally scandal-happy Enquirer has been bullish about Christie's chances. Last April, it published an "EXCLUSIVE!" boasting that the governor's White House dreams were "alive" because "American politics is full of comeback stories." And in February, it published another item touting Christie's chances despite "hatchet job" corruption claims.
Donald Trump's preparation for the upcoming Republican presidential primary debate is "low key, absolutely low stress," adviser Chuck Laudner told the Washington Poston Wednesday. "This isn't 50 consultants locked in a war room, with a fake podium and cardboard cutouts of the other candidates, playing the game of Risk."
Maybe that's because Trump has a different board game of choice—his own. In 2004, as his reality television show The Apprentice was just getting underway, he unveiled the latest in a long line of short-lived ventures. (Hello, Trump Steaks.) It's called TRUMP: The Game, and according to an introductory letter from the billionaire that was included in a set I recently acquired for $4 on Amazon, "the object of the game is to make the most money." Surprise!
Live the fantasy! Feel the power! And make the deals! Photo by Tim Murphy
Much like his presidential campaign, TRUMP: The Game was a reboot of an earlier failed Trump venture, a 1988 Milton Bradley product also called TRUMP: The Game. The tagline for that was "It's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you win!" A television ad for TRUMP: The Game 1.0 boasted that all proceeds from the game would be donated to charity. (This was his Paul Newman phase, evidently.) The 2004 version abandoned the charitable pretense, and replaced the old tagline with a bolder, fresher take: "IT TAKES BRAINS TO MAKE MILLIONS. IT TAKES TRUMP TO MAKE BILLIONS."
Did I have the brains to make millions? Did I have the TRUMP to make billions? Was I, in fact, Donald Trump? I recruited three Mother Jones political reporters—Pat Caldwell, Pema Levy, and Molly Redden—to help me take TRUMP: The Game for a spin.
Here are a few things you should know about the game:
It's for three to four players. Cramped and short-lived—it's the Trump Shuttle of board games. This is a great game if you don't have very many friends.
The box specifies that TRUMP: The Game should only be played by adults. (If you are a child reading this, please stop now.) What? Is this is a board game about pre-nups? Is scalp-reduction surgery involved? If it's for adults, why is an oversized six-year-old on the cover? I kept waiting for the game to reveal some darker, truer, more adult nature, but it never did.
The dice have six sides. Five of the sides have the traditional numbers on them. But the sixth side just has a big letter T on it, for "Trump." Anytime you roll a "Trump," you get to steal something from someone else.
But you don't roll the dice very often—maybe once every few turns, depending on your strategy. TRUMP: The Game borrows the architecture of a classic game, Monopoly, and then renovates it until there's nothing left but a flashy facade.
The most exciting part of the game is bidding on properties. Like Monopoly, you buy properties and try to make money off of them. Trump recommends buying as many properties as you can! But there are only seven properties (including a luxury residence, an international golf course, and a casino—only the finest and most luxurious properties are for sale here), so you can't really do that. It's not possible, either, to simply attach your name on the side of someone else's building in big letters and just own a penthouse there.
When a property goes up for sale, players take turns raising their bids or taking a pass, until someone has outbid everyone else. Then that person own the property. Unless someone else ejects that person from the bidding by playing a card that says "You're fired!" (Actually it says, "YOU'RE FIRED! You are out of the bidding and you cannot fire anyone!" Since when can people who have just been fired fire other people?)
Don't get any ideas! Tim Murphy
If you've been fired, you can get back into the bidding by playing a special card featuring Donald Trump's face. This is, for some reason, not called "the Trump Card." Instead it's called a "The Donald"—definite article included. Like "The Gambia." There are 16 You're Fired! cards but only four The Donalds, meaning that bidding wars often consist entirely of people playing the "You're Fired!" card over and over and over. The unemployment rate in Donald Trump's game is 75 percent. I don't know why you can fire people who don't even work for you. But this is how capitalism works.
A "The Donald." Tim Murphy
Instead of paying taxes to the government, there is a card that, if played, forces other players to pay property taxes to you. ("Trump Tip: I would play this on someone with more than one property.") That is not a tax. That is just a shakedown.
At the end of the game, the person with the most money wins. Fair. What's weird is that there's basically no way to lose money, short of occasionally paying taxes to other people. Instead of losing money when you land on properties owned by rivals, as in Monopoly, you take money from the bank that doesn't belong to you (don't worry about paying it back) and give that money to the player who owns the property. All overhead costs are covered by the banks. The result: the bank is sinking much of its money into a giant real-estate bubble. What could go wrong?
Trump, apparently pressed for time, borrowed the color-coded currency from Monopoly—the lowest denomination is white; the middle is green; the highest is orange. The major difference is that the lowest denomination is $10 million and the highest is $100 million. He basically took Monopoly money, stuck his face on it, and added a bunch of zeroes.