By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
It might be hard to picture New York real estate mogul Donald Trump, who has flirted with a presidential campaign twice before but opted not to run, sitting down in Iowa and New Hampshire living rooms and, as one of Trump’s aides put it, having “a little apple pie” with voters.
But as Trump told ABC News’ Ashleigh Banfield in an interview on “Good Morning America,” today: “I have never been so serious as I am now.” And he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is.
Trump said that if he runs, a decision he plans to announce in June, and if he’s doing well, he would spend as much as $600 million of his own fortune on the race. Does he have that much to spare?
“I have much more than that,” Trump said. “That's one of the nice things. I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich. So if I need $600 million, I can put $600 million myself. That's a huge advantage.” http://abcn.ws/e6IXIr
What’s more, Trump told Banfield that if he doesn't win the GOP nomination, he would consider running as an independent. Oh, and by the way, he “loves the Tea Party" too.
Trump is sending other signals too that this might be the year he is finally going to take the presidential plunge. Earlier this week he agreed to speak at a “Politics and Eggs” forum in New Hampshire in June — the same month that he intends to announce whether he’s going to officially launch a bid for the GOP nomination.
He’s already got some pointed things to say about his potential rivals. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Trump says, “doesn't seem to resonate” while former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn’t “going to captivate the voters.” Ambassador John Huntsman — he’s “very disloyal” — and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: “I don't think he has a chance.” Trump said he likes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich because “he just joined my club in Washington” but calls Sarah Palin’s decision to quit as governor of Alaska “a tragic mistake.” http://abcn.ws/e6IXIr
And whether it’s Trump or any other potential GOP hopeful, the money factor is going to be more important in 2012 than ever before with President Obama’s re-election operation eyeing an unprecedented $1 billion goal.
As ABC News’ Matthew Mosk reports today, Obama met the nearly 500 supporters who will form the core of his fundraising team at a Washington hotel last night. Mosk writes, “As the incumbent president, and someone with a proven record of raising $750 million in his last election, experts agree Obama is well positioned for what's ahead. But they also tell ABC News there will be new obstacles to his fundraising effort that precipitated this early start.” http://abcn.ws/ibcgmI
“For starters, Obama put some of his most proven fundraisers out of commission by turning them into top advisors and overseas ambassadors, making it illegal for them to engage in campaign activity,” Mosk notes. “Among them are big slice of his top-tier bundlers — those who raised more than $500,000. They include more than 50 ambassadors, from California bundler Jeff Bleich in Australia to Boston fundraiser Alan Solomont in Spain to Chicago moneyman Louis B. Susman in the United Kingdom — prized hand-outs to those who brought in large sums at critical points in his campaign.”
But Team Obama has key advantages too. They have been actively recruiting Democratic donors who supported Hillary Clinton during the last presidential cycle, are able to draw on the massive rolodex of e-mail addresses and phone numbers they amassed during the 2008 campaign and have found new backing from the high-tech community, including high-profile names like Google’s Eric Schmidt. More from Mosk’s report: http://abcn.ws/ibcgmI
THE BUDGET BATTLE. Just how successful will either Democrats or Republicans be at selling the “tough choices” needed to rein in the budget deficit? The latest polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post, not surprisingly, shows it's going to be really tough. But, as pollster Gary Langer writes: “Perhaps surprisingly, there may be a little more wiggle room for lawmakers in Washington eyeing Social Security. Despite the system's ‘touch it and die’ reputation, one option gets narrow majority support — lifting the cap on the amount of income that's taxed to fund benefits. And two others, reducing early retirement benefits and slowing the rate of growth in benefits, approach a split decision.”
Even as many Democrats dismiss the idea that Social Security is in serious danger, 81 percent of Americans believe it's “headed for a crisis” — up 10 points since 2005. Of course, "headed for a crisis" is a long-term concept and winning the next election is short-term reality. And, while some options may be getting less unpopular, they still don't garner majority support. http://abcn.ws/eLPG4y
One senator ABC News recently interviewed, Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, said when it comes to balancing the budget, you better not touch Social Security. "I believe that we should not be balancing the budget on the backs of people who are most vulnerable and who need government assistance most," Blumenthal told ABC News. "I think that we will need to address Social Security if the current trends continue sometime after the next ten years or so but not as part of dealing with the deficit." In the latest installment of ABC News' "Subway Series" with Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl, Sen. Blumenthal said balancing could be as easy as eliminating waste and fraud. (h/t ABC News’ Gregory Simmons) More from ABC’s interview with Sen. Blumenthal: http://abcn.ws/fQhHiy
WHITE HOUSE WATCH. As crises plague the Middle East and North Africa, the White House is facing questions about whether President Obama should take a trip to Latin America with so much instability elsewhere. And then there's this: In the Washington Post today, Robert Malley, the International Crisis Group’s program director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the White House has found it difficult to develop a coherent set of principles regarding democracy and freedom that it can apply consistently across the Arab world. “A lot of people say this is an opportunity for us to match our values with our policies, but there are cases where the U.S. is finding it hard to reconcile the two,” Malley, a State Department official during the Clinton administration, told the Post. “But at some point, if our treatment of similar cases is seen as different by people in the region, we’ll undermine our moral case everywhere.” http://bit.ly/gH3cAD
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Karen Travers and Amy Walter interview Sen.Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who requested the Government Accountability Office to publish report about government waste and misspending. Also on the show: Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a Tea Party freshman who voted with Democrats to keep the government running. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TOP LINE REPLAY: HENRY WAXMAN. The California Democrat and ranking member of the House Energy Committee told “Top Line” yesterday he doesn’t believe industry assurances that U.S . nuclear facilities are safe and secure. Learning from Japan’s disaster, Waxman said, “I don't know whether there needs to be a moratorium, because that could stop some that are almost ready to go online. But we need to make sure that all of them have all the failsafe to deal with whatever emergency may come about.” On “Top Line” we also sat down with ESPN’s Andy Katz who weighed in on Obama’s “March Madness” college hoops bracket: “There were no Belmont picks, there were no Woffords,” Katz said of some potential lower-seeded teams Obama could have picked as upset winners. “Nothing sort of crazy. It was all very conservative.” http://abcn.ws/fSZSqf
JAPAN UPDATE. “Japanese officials suspended helicopter flights spraying water over Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant due to high radiation levels, the latest foiled attempt to contain the nuclear crisis,” ABC News’ David Muir, Jessica Hopper, Leezel Tanglao and Ben Forer report. “The two helicopters had dropped about 30 tons of water on the plant overnight. In addition, 11 water cannon trucks arrived at the Fukushima Daiichi plant though they were too far from the plant to be effective. ‘It's like a squirt gun, using a squirt gun against a raging forest fire. They're overwhelmed, they're floundering, they don't know what to do’ Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, said. The water trucks and helicopters were used in part because radiation levels are dangerously high for workers to be directly in the plant for extended periods.” Full coverage of the ongoing crisis in Japan from ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/International/Pacific_Disaster/
PALIN HEADS TO ISRAEL. "Potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate Sarah Palin is expected to arrive in Israel for a visit next week," The Jerusalem Post's Lahav Harkov writes. " Palin plans to visit Israel for two days, and will meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other members of Israel's right-wing, including Likud MK Danny Danon , a Danon aide told The Jerusalem Post. She was also expected to visit the Western Wall and Nazareth during her short stay, according to Army Radio. Palin, an outspoken supporter of Israel, has often criticized the Obama administration for what she believes to be its unfair treatment of the Jewish State. 'The Obama Administration needs to open its eyes and recognize that it is only Iran and her terrorist allies that benefit from this manufactured Israeli controversy,' Palin said in a Facebook post last year." Palin is on her way to India now to attend the India Today Conclave 2011. http://bit.ly/gH3cAD
NOTED: The Los Angeles Times’ Robin Abcarian profiles one of Palin’s top advisers, Rebecca Mansour, who one Palin confidant described as a “jack of all trades.” From the piece: “Unlike other key Palin players, Mansour is neither a rough-hewn Alaskan nor a seasoned Washington operative. She is a political neophyte, a Republican daughter of Democrat-friendly Detroit, a onetime film student who lives in Hollywood, and a longtime fundraiser for Harvard University, an institution known for churning out the very "elites" so often derided by Palin. The erudite Mansour, who calls herself a member of ‘the great unwashed,’ doesn't mind sounding elite; her vocabulary includes real words like ‘hebetudinous’ (mentally lethargic) and made-up ones like ‘anti-dentite’ (a dentist hater, from "Seinfeld"). She loves Victorian poetry, William Faulkner and David Lean films. She is especially fond of "Why I Am a Liberal," Robert Browning's 1886 sonnet on liberty.” http://lat.ms/fUvKB6
WHITE HOUSE WANTS SHIFT IN BUDGET TALKS. “White House budget director Jacob Lew said the administration wants to shift the focus of budget talks from spending cuts to long-term deficit reduction, which will force Republicans to discuss raising government revenue,” Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman reports. “Shrinking the budget shortfall from a projected record $1.6 trillion this year over the longer term will require going beyond slashing programs to addressing entitlement programs such as Social Security and taxes, Lew said during a Bloomberg Breakfast yesterday in Washington. ‘One cannot solve our deficit problem by simply cutting away at it,’ Lew said. ‘There is going to have to be a serious conversation with everything on the table in terms of revenues and mandatory spending, and that’s hard.’” http://bloom.bg/fzcWKb
HOUSE GOP KEEPS FOCUS ON JOBS. “As the debate over keeping the federal government funded continues to dominate the agenda on Capitol Hill, House Republicans are redoubling their efforts to make sure that the issue of job creation — which largely fueled their triumph in November — does not get lost in the mix,” the Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez notes. “One day after they released a report making the case that less federal spending will boost the national economy, House Republican leaders hosted an hour-long forum on job creation Wednesday in the Capitol Visitors Center. Attending were several business owners, including the chief executive of a West Virginia construction company and the president of a bank in Laredo, Tex. In an interview, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) cast the event as an opportunity for business owners to tell Congress what should be done to improve private-sector hiring — as well as for House Republicans to drive home the message that the ultimate goal of their proposed spending cuts is more jobs.” http://wapo.st/hOUeIL
K STREET CASHING IN? “For all his anti-lobbyist rhetoric, President Barack Obama has done more than almost anyone to help K Street fatten its wallet,” Politico’s Chris Frates writes. “First came his push to pass health care and Wall Street reforms, an epic two-year stretch of bruising legislative battles that saw lobbying revenues skyrocket. But the boom didn’t end when the legislation became law. Now, regulators are writing hundreds of new rules required by the twin reforms, creating a bonanza of new business for Washington lobbyists positioned to help companies influence and comply with the new regulations. … ‘A lot of people did very well in the lobby community off the Recovery Act,’ said Democratic lobbyist Rich Gold. ‘Regulatory work is the new Recovery Act for lawyers and lobbyists in Washington.’ Indeed, firms across the city are staffing up and touting their expertise in the regulatory arena as they compete for lucrative regulatory clients, which can bring in two to three times the fees of a more traditional lobbying contract.” http://politi.co/eKA9lk
QUAYLE STICKS UP FOR OBAMA’S GOLF HABIT. “Republicans should leave President Obama alone about his golfing habit, former Republican Vice President Dan Quayle said Wednesday evening,” the Hill’s Michael O’Brien notes. “Quayle, who served as vice president from 1989-1993, said it was unreasonable for Republicans to expect Obama to be constantly monitoring every issue in the world. ‘I'm glad he's out playing golf. I happen to be a golfer,’ Quayle said on the Fox Business Network. ‘I think presidents deserve down time. And believe me, he is in constant communication with what's going on.’” http://bit.ly/f7vAPr
WHITE HOUSE TODAY — ST. PATRICK’S DAY EDITION. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, the Obamas have once again dyed the water green in a fountain on the South Lawn, ABC’s Sunlen Miller and Ann Compton report. The President and the Vice President will meet with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in the Oval Office, then the two leaders will deliver statements to the press. Afterward, the President, the Vice President and Prime Minister Kenny will attend the annual St. Patrick’s Day lunch at the United States Capitol. In the evening the President and the First Lady will host a St. Patrick’s Day reception in the East Room of the White House.
@markknoller: US standing by its recommendation that Americans evacuate an area within 50 miles of the crippled Fukushima nuclear reactors.
@DavidMDrucker: Ex-Sen Bayh (D-IN) on FNC:'I think budget will get done right around time of debt ceiling vote, and Obama will step in then'
* New Gingrich is attending the Wild Irish Breakfast for PLUS Co. charity as a special guest in Nashua, New Hampshire
* Sarah Palin travels to India to attend the India Today Conclave 2011.
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