In addition to his politicking and television appearances, Mr. Cohen also founded the Web site ShouldTrumpRun.com, with his fellow “Friend of Donald” Stewart Rahr, a flamboyant billionaire who calls himself “Stewie Rah-Rah” and who lives in Trump’s building. As of press time, the site is closing in on its one millionth sign-up. Despite his close proximity to Mr. Trump-the site is run out of his Trump office-Mr. Cohen said that his boss is not behind the effort.
“The truth is, if you ask him anything about the site, he couldn’t tell you,” Mr. Cohen said. “He couldn’t tell you how many pages, he couldn’t even tell you how many people have come-I mean, he knows it’s a lot, because he asks every now and then-but he couldn’t tell you what’s on it.”
The fact that a Draft Trump Web site was conceived by an employee of his led to some snickering in political circles and some exasperation among those engaged in a separate, state-by-state effort, spearheaded by Mr. Stone, who calls the office to alert them of various sites in the right-wing blogosphere that they should be aware of.
Mr. Stone, a no-holds-barred political operative with a tattoo of Richard Nixon’s face on his back, attended both of Mr. Trump’s most recent weddings, he said, and despite a brief rupture in their relationship (according to one source, stemming from Mr. Stone’s harassment of Eliot Spitzer’s father, a colleague in New York City real estate), he has been a formal and an informal adviser for close to three decades. In the words of one consultant who has been in touch with Mr. Trump, Mr. Stone “has the number for the bat phone,” and some press calls still get routed through him, but in February, after Politico published an article that included Mr. Stone’s trashing the rest of the Republican field, Mr. Trump announced that “Roger does not represent me and is not an adviser to my potential campaign.”
That hasn’t stopped Mr. Stone from recruiting some old friends into the fold. And, while each name is gobbled up by the media as one more indication that Mr. Trump might actually be serious this time around, calls to some of the operatives reflect an organization that’s still rather slapdash.
J. Kenneth Klinge, a 72-year-old lobbyist in Virginia and a former director of the state’s Republican Party, signed on after a friend of his was contacted by Mr. Stone about becoming part of a national Draft Trump movement. Mr. Klinge was active in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, and after agreeing to help organize his home state, he was surprised to find out that he had been announced by the group as the Southern regional director and was also tasked with helping to organize in Iowa.
“Shit. Every time I talk to a reporter, I’m moving up,” Mr. Klinge told The Observer. “Right now, I’m just trying to figure out how big my job is. Just because someone puts out a press release saying I’m the Southern coordinator doesn’t mean crap to me.” Mr. Klinge said that if he can get enough people to sign on, then Mr. Trump is bound to jump into the race. “There are only three types of people susceptible to flattery-men, women and children. And he is at least one of these,” Mr. Klinge said.
The national effort is led by Lynn Krogh, a young New York operative and executive director of the Young Republican National Federation, who last worked on Rick Lazio’s unsuccessful run against Carl Paladino. Ms. Krogh, who is currently unpaid, is recruiting volunteers in the key states-mostly by email-who are then given a long leash, in the hopes they can build some kind of local apparatus, with only the occasion check-in from Ms. Krogh or from Mr. Cohen, and with the added hope that should a bona fide campaign develop, it might yield a lucrative job for the next couple of years.
Mr. Stone’s pitch goes something like this: A multi-candidate field would split some of the social conservative vote in the Iowa caucuses and give Mr. Trump at least a halfway decent finish; then, with any luck, he would do well in libertarian and Tea Party-leaning New Hampshire, followed by Florida and Nevada, which Mr. Stone sees as natural fits for Mr. Trump. (South Carolina, the other early primary state and a hotbed of Christian conservatism, is seen as a tougher climb.)
But it’s a particularly tough sell, what with Mr. Trump’s history as a candidate who pops up every 12 years, just long enough to promote himself and whatever Trump-branded product might be for sale at that moment. Marjory Jaeger, an administrator at the University of Buffalo and former volunteer for the Carl Paladino for Governor campaign, said she has sent dozens of emails to friends and colleagues trying to get them to sign on to the effort. It has been slow going. “Folks are tentative to hop aboard the train,” Ms. Jaeger said.
On Monday, Tony Fabrizio-the presumed pollster for Mr. Trump’s campaign and a longtime associate of Mr. Stone’s-sent a letter saying that after much reflection, he had decided to remove his name from consideration.