Part-time Palm Beacher and celebrity capitalist Donald Trump called entitlement and immigration reform losing issues for the GOP, said Republicans lack a leader to energize voters and didn’t rule out running for president in 2016 during a Friday visit to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
In a wide-ranging speech and wider-ranging session with reporters and conservative bloggers, Trump weighed in on topics from Iraq’s oil reserves — which he said the U.S. should use to pay itself back for its war expenses — to the power of celebrity in politics.
He got in a few plugs for his 14 golf courses around the world and mentioned his personal ties to everyone from Newt Gingrich (“He’s a member of a great club right down the road that I happen to own, so I love Newt.”) to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (“Chris is a very good friend of mine. I have a lot of property in New Jersey.”) to OPEC ministers (“I hate to tell you, they’re friends of mine, I know them all.”).
Trump flirted with 2000 and 2012 presidential campaigns. With several potential 2016 presidential hopefuls testing the waters at CPAC, Trump was asked if he might run.
“It’s so early. And you know when I announced I wasn’t going to run (in 2011) I was leading in the polls,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens. I mean, it’s a long way to go.”
Celebrity candidates have some advantages, Trump said. Discussing a potential Kentucky Senate candidacy by actress Ashley Judd, Trump said, “She’s a celebrity. That helps…. People can get elected as a celebrity. We’ve seen that many times. Often times it doesn’t work out very well but these are minor details.”
For 2016, Trump told reporters, Republicans are “going to have to get a leader that can energize. We don’t have that. They’re going to have to get someone that can really get people into the tent because the numbers are not looking good.”
He began his 15-minute speech by saying the GOP is in “serious trouble” and said entitlements and immigration could make things worse for the GOP.
“As Republicans, if you think you’re going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in substantial way, and at the same time you think you’re going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen,” Trump said.
He told reporters that Mitt Romney probably lost votes when he chose House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate in 2012.
“The first thing I think of when I think of Paul Ryan is the cutting of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” Trump said.
On immigration reform, Trump told the CPAC crowd, “You’re going to have to do what’s right – but the fact is, 11 million people will be voting Democratic. You can be out front, you can be the spearhead, you can do whatever you want to do, but every one of those 11 million people will be voting Democratic. That’s just the way it works.”
Trump is hardly an orthodox conservative, but American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said he was invited to speak because “we can’t have 30 people saying the same things with the same backgrounds…. Every year we invite folks from the private sector who are not sitting in public office who we think might have something interesting to say.”