Mr. Stone compares the Draft Trump movement to similar efforts to lure into the Republican race Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Wendell Wilkie in 1940 (never mind that though those candidates were successfully lured into the race, each suffered a crushing defeat in the general election) and hopes that should Mr. Trump decide to run, the draft effort provides him with a ready-to-go infrastructure in the states.
“It’s waiting for him to turn the key and say we have the start of a campaign,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who has been in talks about signing on for the campaign. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen have met with a handful of pollsters and political operatives, including Ms. Conway; John McLaughlin, a pollster for the presidential campaigns of Fred Thompson and Steve Forbes; and Larry Weitzner, a direct-mail specialist who has worked with George Pataki and Al D’Amato.
But for now, it’s mostly just Mr. Trump. When he traveled to Florida earlier this month to speak at a Tea Party rally, the organizer of the event, Everett Wilkinson, said he was stunned to find that aside from security, Mr. Trump traveled alone, and gave him a one-on-one meeting prior to the speech, explaining his recent conversion to conservative principles.
“Everybody says he has this ego, but I didn’t really see it. I’ve met Mitt Romney, [Michelle] Bachmann, but with Donald, you could tell that his responses weren’t politically canned or anything like that,” he said. “I found him very easy to work with. I don’t think he has very many political operatives. I think it’s Donald Trump himself.”
Asked who he is relying on for advice, Mr. Trump said, “Myself. Myself and my instincts.” But he acknowledged that at some point, that would need to change. He added, however, that he was determined to not be over-handled. “When I did The Apprentice, I got a call from Regis Philbin that I’ve never forgotten. He said, ‘Donald, I see you are going to be doing a big show on television. Be yourself.’ He said, ‘Don’t listen to anybody, just be yourself.’ And two days ago, I got a call from one of the biggest people in politics. He said, ‘Donald, don’t listen to too many people. Just be yourself.’ It was almost the same thing. You know, Regis is the ultimate pro in terms of television and that kind of thing, and this guy is the Regis of politics and he said almost the exact same words.”
What exactly it means for Mr. Trump to be himself, besides fiercely promoting his own brand, remains very much undetermined. His latest persona as a red-meat right-wing ideologue is just the latest from someone who first came to the public’s attention as a money-hungry real estate tycoon, morphed into a tabloid celebrity with the tawdry affairs, and has most recently become an unapologetic promoter of the advantages of making lots and lots of money. His latest obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate has surprised even those who know him well, and who first learned that it was an interest of Mr. Trump’s when he brought it up to the ladies of The View.
“I’ve known him forever,” said James Finkelstein, a publishing executive and personal friend of Mr. Trump’s. As for the birther issue, “I probably heard him say it first on television.”
Even his closest friends and advisers doubt whether Mr. Trump is up for the rigors of a real campaign, stumping in the snows of Iowa or posing alongside the butter cow at the state fair.
“He has the moxie and the willingness to campaign in Iowa,” Ms. Conway said. “But does he have the wardrobe?”
“I already have my snow boots ready!” said Mr. Trump, who can publicly stoke the Draft Trump movement for at least another few months before he would have to actually declare an official candidacy and disclose his finances (including a net worth that’s been very much in dispute over the years).
“There is a vacuum. Donald knows how to fill a vacuum,” said Alan Marcus, Trump’s
public-relations guru in the 1990s. “Donald loves the media, loves hearing the sounds of his voice and knows exactly what people will gravitate to. He sees a niche and bang! He’s there.”
And the sounds of Mr. Trump’s own voice are increasingly widespread, in part because of his willingness to distribute them indiscriminately. “Trump has enormous balls,” says Mr. Stone. “He will say anything, anywhere, if he believes it.”