11:35 am Apr. 25, 2011
Much has been said about Donald Trump in the media. Much has also been said about how much is being said about Donald Trump in the media. Trump's Republican Party-eclipsing presidential exercise is irresistible—so loud, such a compound absurdity, that even a policy of ignoring it looks somehow defensive.
For similar reasons, Trump's deliberately cultivated offensiveness has created an un-pass-uppable political opportunity in places like New York City, where access to the birther vote is not apparently the asset it is elsewhere. This weekend, for example, Michael Bloomberg, who says he considers Trump a friend, took a stand against Donald Trump's birtherism, saying during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" that "the president was born here" and that Republicans who suggest otherwise for political gain are making a "terrible mistake."
Given this environment, there may be no single member of the media with better reason to seize on Donald Trump as a topic than Eliot Spitzer, who co-hosts a show on CNN that until recently bore his name but is currently called "In the Arena."
Spitzer himself has allowed it to be said without denying it that he's flirting with a mayoral run in 2013, which would pit him against Rep. Anthony Weiner, among others, in a Democratic primary. (Spitzer has described his own waffling on the matter as "not Shermanesque.")
But last week, Spitzer used his platform to open a public dialog with Trump, specifically to discuss the issue of Trump's accounting of his own finances. This was a particularly rich vein for Spitzer to mine.
The stuff having to do with where the president was born is actually too stupid to debate, notwithstanding audience-share considerations. (In other news, CNN announced today that Anderson Cooper plans to confront Trump with the results of the network's investigation into the "birther controversy.") But the issue of Trump's net worth, and of his varyingly hyperbolic accounts thereof, is actually relevant, and involves as-yet-unrevealed facts. It also speaks to the very premise of Trump both as a candidate for office and as a public person.
As Spitzer put it: "[If] there are real discrepancies between the numbers he's putting on projects and the actuality, then his own stated rationale for his candidacy begins to crumble."
It is probably not a coincidence that Spitzer's segment, in which he played prosecutor to Jeffrey Toobin's professional witness for the prosecution ("Jeff, it's tough to know where to start. But let's look at the condominium tower Trump built in Las Vegas"), was preceded a couple of weeks earlier by another CNN segment, which starred Trump and Anthony Weiner, who's declared himself the "front-runner" in the race.
In that episode, on "Piers Morgan Tonight," Weiner said to Trump: "You'll be dropping out soon enough Donald, we both know it," and Trump said to Weiner, "A lot of people are leaving the city if you end up winning." Both men seemed perfectly pleased with the outcome.
Spitzer had done his part to match Weiner's feat, devoting a show to Trump's capacity for self-inflation. The only other thing he needed, as he set about keeping pace with that other skinny, tough-talking, camera-loving liberal Jewish guy who wants to be mayor, was for Trump to respond in kind.
Trump, who clearly feels that he stands to benefit from the attention every bit as much as his critics do, duly obliged, calling into Spitzer's show the next day to say that Spitzer was wrong, in ways he wasn't quite ready to reveal.
Referring purposefully to Spitzer's father Bernard, who bankrolled his son's first successful campaign for New York State attorney general back in 1998, Trump said, according to the CNN transcript, "They don’t know what he’s worth and it would be very hard to determine what I’m worth. But if I run for office, you’re going to know what I’m worth because… you’re gonna know where the banks are, how much I have in each bank. You’re gonna know exactly what I’m worth. Stay tuned."
It would have been really funny, just then, if, instead of asking for permission to ask a follow-up question, Spitzer had said, "No, I won't, thanks." But considering that Spitzer's in the business of getting ratings, and may soon be back in the business of getting votes, it's clear that was too much to expect.