Appearances to the contrary, the early stage of a presidential nominating contest is not a reality show.
That means the likely Republican 2012 contenders can't say to Donald Trump, "You're fired."
And that's a point of annoyance and frustration -- and even a touch of worry -- to the Republicans who are plotting paths to defeat President Obama next year.
In publicly mulling a run for president for the third time in a quarter century, Trump is more than your typical vanity candidate who enjoys seeing his name plastered across the political landscape.
He's proven more adept at playing the media game than he has even at playing the real-estate market -- and he knows how to poke his hair into almost any story he chooses.
Regardless of whether Republican primary voters actually get a chance to vote for The Donald, he could shape the GOP field in ways that aren't likely to help the more seasoned and serious candidates for the presidency.
Like any celebrity candidate, Trump is drawing press interest that could go elsewhere. That's a particular concern for Republicans who are anxious to break through early and big in opposing what could be a billion-dollar candidacy in the Obama reelection campaign, which is set to formally launch in the coming days.
To make matters worse for the other candidates, Trump is appealing to the "birther" elements inside the conservative movement in his many media appearances.
"There's something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like," Trump declared on ABC's "The View" last week.
Trump chose to cap such appearances by publicly releasing his own birth certificate -- except the initial document he released wasn't the official legal paperwork he's insisting that the president produce.
Those who continue to question the president's place of birth -- and therefore his qualification to be president -- represent a sizeable enough minority inside the Republican Party that it's tempting for presidential hopefuls to appeal to them.
One poll last week found that only 20 percent of Republicans believe the president was "definitely" born in the United States.
But speaking up for such elements inside the party is unlikely to boost GOP prospects next year. More mainstream Republicans are warning that focusing on things like the president's birth status or religion won't get the party anywhere it wants to go.
"That's a waste of time," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told ABC News last week. "I do believe he was born in the United States. And I don't think any of those things are the reason why America's in trouble."
More broadly, Trump threatens to take away from the message of candidates who are more serious in their intentions and their plans.
In case there's not enough of him to go around, Fox News has severed its relationship with likely contenders Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum even while promising weekly "Mondays with Trump" segments.
Republicans in Washington, meanwhile, are engaged in quite serious pursuits.
A high-stakes showdown over spending is set to take on new dimensions this week, with a partial government shutdown looming and House Republicans set to tackle longer-term spending issues with a budget proposal to be released this week.
The contours of 2012 are still taking shape, with no serious challengers to the president yet making their candidacies official.
It is clear, however, that with an improving economy and fast-moving developments internationally, Obama will not be nearly as vulnerable as conventional wisdom had it in the wake of last year's midterm victories for Republicans.
Some observers have wryly noted that Trump's timeframe for making his political intentions known coincides roughly with the May finale of his NBC program, "Celebrity Apprentice."
This all may be an elaborate publicity ploy by Trump, who made similar noises about running for president in advance of the 1988 and 2000 campaigns.
But by the time Trump makes up his mind, debate season will be upon the Republicans. If he takes any of those stages, he will steal some limelight from the other assembled hopefuls -- and potentially dim the proceedings for all of them.