NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump may lead the Republican field in some opinion polls in the nascent 2012 White House race but experts don’t expect Americans to elect their first reality TV president.
Sure, America’s voters made a B-movie star (Ronald Reagan) commander-in-chief, and elected a former professional wrestler (Jesse Ventura) and a muscular action movie star (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as governors of Minnesota and California, respectively.
But experts say while the flashy real estate mogul and “Celebrity Apprentice” reality TV show host may enjoy some early popularity, once the race gets going in earnest, voters would dispatch the billionaire with his own catch phrase -- “You’re fired.”
“He fills that political persona of the unapologetic self promoter who tells it like it is,” said Thomas Schwartz, a history professor at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University.
Schwartz said Trump was akin to Ross Perot, the folksy businessman who funded an independent run against President George H.W. Bush and his Democratic contender Bill Clinton in 1992 and ran again in 1996.
“I really wonder if Donald Trump is ready for the type of scrutiny of his personal and business affairs ... or if he is just looking for publicity for his TV show,” Schwartz said. “He fills a vacuum while there is no serious Republican running.”
For Columbia University Media and Society Professor Richard Wald, Trump is an aberration. “This is a media moment. There is very little likelihood Mr. Trump will become president because he is not a serious person,” Wald said.
Nevertheless, early polls show Trump getting a bounce from his highly public musings of a campaign and his foray into “birther” politics, the disproved idea some conservatives cling to that Barack Obama, a Democrat, was born in Kenya instead of Hawaii and so cannot legally hold the U.S. presidency.
That has prompted the Republican establishment to attack the tycoon, worried his flirtation with a 2012 run hurts the party’s chances to field a serious challenge to Obama.
Karl Rove, architect of Republican George W. Bush’s two presidential victories, called Trump a “joke candidate” and columnist George Will called him a “blatherskite” -- someone who blathers promiscuously.
A poll last week by Public Policy Polling found that Trump led the Republican field with 26 percent, followed by 17 percent for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, 15 percent for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 11 percent for former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and 8 percent for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
A McClatchy-Marist poll released on Wednesday found Trump running third in the Republican field with 13 percent, behind Romney’s 18 percent and Huckabee’s 17 percent.
Trump’s standing in the polls comes despite the flip-flops pundits have been writing about. Among them are his 2009 book where he praised Obama, who he now calls America’s worst president ever, and his book from 2000, when he last flirted with a presidential run, in which he called for a Canadian-style universal healthcare system.
Many experts say Trump benefits from early name recognition -- a factor that will dissipate once other candidates become better known. Others say his popularity is emblematic of deeper problems in the Republican field.
“There is something missing in the Republican field if Donald Trump has a potential of winning the candidacy,” talk show host Chris Matthews wrote in the Huffington Post.
Editing by Will Dunham and Vicki Allen