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Monday, January 22, 2018

By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Republican presidential field has a CEO, a doctor, three senators and one senator-doctor. On Tuesday, when Donald Trump announced that he planned to join the bunch, it got its first reality TV star.

In remarks from Trump Tower in New York, the wealthy real estate developer said, “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.”

“Politicians are all talk, no action — nothing is going to get done. They will not lead us to the promised land,” Trump said. “Our country is in serious trouble — we don’t have victories anymore.”

Even before he jumped into the race, however, the logic of reality TV has had an effect on all the GOP campaigns.

The cast of candidates vying to be president includes some who have joined the race for the same reasons aging sitcom stars put on their dancing shoes and learn to tango. They know they have little chance of winning, but even losing could be good for their careers.

The rise of long-shot, nontraditional candidates is a growing trend, particularly in the recent open Republican contests. None will publicly admit it, but as was true four years ago, several candidates appear to be using the presidential race more as a springboard to television or radio punditry or the speaking circuit than as a contest to actually win office.

Some need to expand their donor base. Others may walk away with a book deal. All that’s required is a healthy ego and a few donors.

“You have a category of people who exist in that fuzzy space where celebrity and politics meet in our culture. You’ve seen, increasingly, a number of those candidates running,” said Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist.

The trend gives some traditionalists pause and some party operatives heartburn as they try to manage a freewheeling and growing field.

And it gives Democrats some extra fodder. In a statement after Trump’s announcement, the Democratic National Committee tweaked the GOP candidates, saying his entry “adds some much-needed seriousness that has previously been lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward hearing more about his ideas for the nation.”

In truth, of course, the party’s front-runners — former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for example — don’t fall into this new group. Some of the second tier — Carly Fiorina or Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — are viewed as angling for positions in the next GOP administration. And compared to the 2012 field — which included the pizza tycoon Herman Cain and the firebrand conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann — 2016 looks almost staid.

But it’s the sheer number of candidates this year that has created problems for Republican officials. Four years ago, the largest candidate debates had eight participants. This year, the party has struggled to find a way to limit the cast to 10 — with the knowledge that some, like Trump, who come with high name recognition, could push aside lesser-known but more substantive hopefuls like Graham.

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