April 15, 2011 -- Has a long history of eccentric candidates drawn Donald Trump into the presidential race? Or is it greater earning potential?
There were over 131 million votes cast in the 2008 presidential election. That's even more than "American Idol," which set a record earlier this week with 55 million votes cast (that number includes duplicates, as individual voters can cast up to 50 votes).
Presidential elections get and hold the attention of the American public. We take our special interests seriously, not to mention wanting a say in who gets to hover their index finger over the red button (you know which one). So it's not surprising we get a wide cross section of folks who covet the job.
Some are outliers with genuine governing ambition and significant followings but ideas that fall outside of mainstream popularity. Some have no chance but speak for underrepresented groups of people and are looking to get issues on the table, or want to have important roles within their parties. Some make us wonder whether the deck contains all 52 original cards. And finally some, as I suspect Mr. Trump does, consider it to be the main strategy in a personal advertising and marketing campaign.
Love him, hate him or just wish he would go away, Donald Trump has exhibited the marketing flair of P.T. Barnum, the opportunistic DNA of Al Sharpton and the style of Herve Villechaize (the height-challenged actor from "Fantasy Island"). Now, he insists he is a potential candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Ross Perot entertained us as a presidential candidate in 1992. Ralph Nader as a perennial candidate has become like the Friars club roasts, institutionalized but no longer relevant. Al and Jesse got trumped by the real thing. Donald Trump, however, differs from these candidates in one very significant way — he may very well be the first candidate who figures out how to make money by campaigning.
So how does this work? Although John McCain spent an estimated $360 million to Obama's $646 million to campaign for president, the lion's share of that money was either in donated or, in the case of McCain, also taxpayer money. Some candidates have spent large amounts of their own money: Ross Perot spent $65 million and Mitt Romney spent over 42 million in a failed attempt at his party's nomination.
But contrast that with the billion dollars Merv Griffin earned as the creator of two of the longest running game shows on TV. The earning potential of Donald Trump as entertainment entrepreneur far outweighs the possibility of President Trump.
Like Diddy or your favorite "Dancing With the Stars" contestant, the success of Trump's ventures depend on his popularity. After all, naming buildings and golf courses after oneself works better if there is some celebrity attached that can help drive investment, utilization and new deals.
Donald Trump for President?
The Donald obviously possesses some real business acumen. He has managed somehow to stay financially upright for the better part of 40 years and has successfully taken his brand from real estate into the less cash-intensive but highly lucrative entertainment business.
But the presidency is different. It can give him a legitimacy that has long eluded him and expose the Trump brand to a wider audience -- including a worldwide one from which he can continue to expand his entertainment properties and increase his net worth.
Given the opportunity to be remembered as FDR, who helped America recover from the Great Depression, or Merv Griffin, creator of "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," two of the most lucrative and longest-running game shows, I suspect I know which one Donald Trump would choose.
Reality TV and social media have helped blur the lines between entertainment and reality. Trump is hoping they stay blurred long enough for him to pocket some serious Benjamins.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of Mr. Woodard.
Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.