By Geoffrey Garrett
US President Barack Obama has released the long form of his birth certificate in order to quash questions of his legitimacy as President.
Business and media identity Donald Trump had been key in questioning whether Obama was, as the US Constitution requires of a President, a "native born citizen".
Trump is now taking "credit" for the release of the certificate, leading some observers to ask whether has he established himself as a genuine contender in the 2012 elections, or been on the receiving end of some well-timed political spin by the White House.
Is Donald Trump a genuine chance of winning the Republican nomination, let alone the Presidency?
The answer is no and no. Donald Trump's meteoric rise up the Republican ranks tells you just how hard it is proving for the Republican party to find a credible candidate to take on Barack Obama.
Is this just a publicity stunt?
Donald Trump is an enormously successful self-publicist. The fact that his career has had as many failures, or maybe more failures, than successes, hasn't seemed to dull his lustre very much in the national eye.
What Trump represents is the desire on the right wing of the Republican party to find someone to take on Obama who really doesn't look anything like the American political mainstream. That is what swept the Tea Party to power in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections last November.
What the Republicans are finding however is that governing in Washington is more difficult than being the opposition party of just say no. What the Trump phenomenon tells us is that the Republican party is internally divided and unable to come up with a strategy for taking on Obama—which might seem ironic given the many problems plaguing the Obama administration.
The smart money today would have to be on Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.
Trump has also donated to key Democrats before, where do his politics truly lie, or is all about advancing his own interests?
It is entirely possible it is all about what advances his own interests. And at the moment the wave he wants to surf is the populist anti-Washington, anti-business as usual, sentiment that has swept the US since the global financial crisis.
That can be a winning strategy for insurgents in congressional elections. But it is harder to see it working at the presidential level. The best evidence we have for that is that the Republican party collectively seems to have cooled on Sarah Palin who in many respects looked like Donald Trump, outrageous remarks and all, in her rise from obscurity to overnight stardom in 2008.
Is Trump's latching onto the birth certificate issue an attempt to hijack the Tea Party vote?
The Tea Party is essentially leaderless, and hence certainly vulnerable to Trump's charismatic appeal. But what we see today in Washington is a very interesting disconnect on the right of the Republican party.
On one hand we have celebrity candidates like Donald Trump toying with presidential bids. But inside Washington there's a very serious, policy oriented, anti-glitz right wing Republicanism. it is headed by a guy who also came out of nowhere, Paul Ryan from Minnesota, who has put a budget blueprint together which is about stripping back the American state to where it was before Lyndon Johnson's reforms in the 1960s and perhaps even before Roosevelt's 1930s New Deal.
The philosophy Ryan represents today harkens back to Ronald Reagan's famous saying in the 1980s that government is the problem not the solution. The solution, for Ryan today, for Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and for Reagan in the 1980s is to cut government spending. It is only by stripping back the state that you can give America back to the people by cutting their taxes.
This is the core position of the rightwing of the Republican party. No one thinks that Ryan's budget blueprint will become law, but it does fire up "the base". This is why Donald Trump and Sarah Palin can come out of nowhere and capture the imagination of right wing populists.
But the Republican establishment is looking for a much more boring candidate, like Mitch Daniel, the Governor from Indiana. He is nobody's idea of a charismatic politician, the anti-Trump in many respects. But he does have rock solid conservative credentials and a strong reputation for competence.
Is Obama's release of the long form certificate an excellent piece of political timing to paint the Republican party as extreme?
Barack Obama didn't invent the Tea Party, or the Birthers associated with them. But I think the rise of the Tea Party is, paradoxically, one reason to be confident about his re-election. The economic recovery has been slow but the unemployment rate is coming down which is a big plus for the President.
Washington's ongoing budget fight will be a big part of the 2012 campaign. here Obama defending the very popular parts of the American welfare state, Medicare and social security, against the Republican right.
The Tea Party, the Birthers, and Donald Trump all make great media copy. Obama is taking his lumps on debt and deficits and international issues like Libya. But he just looks like the grown up sensible centre of American politics these days.
It is the centre that tends to win isn't it?
Yes. There is a very interesting parallel with Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Barack Obama has infamously never been a great fan of Bill Clinton. That was partly because he was running against Clinton's wife Hilary in 2008 and also because he didn't like what he viewed as Clinton's instinct to run to the centre in the face of a fight.
Obama wanted to be a President as the left's analogue of Ronald Reagan, someone who stuck to his principles and through the courage of his conviction moved the country with him. That was Barack Obama in 2008. Barack Obama in 2011, and looking towards 2012, is becoming ever more Clintonian. He has tacked to the centre to defend the welfare state against a Republican party that looks like it has gone too far to the right from the mainstream. That worked very well for Clinton in 1996. And it may work just as well for Obama in 2012.