April 1, 2011 Donald Trump Gets Weirder By GAIL COLLINS Donald Trump has run faux campaigns for president before, flirting with the Democrats and independents. This time, heâs playing a conservative Republican. By 2016, heâll probably be talking about his affinity for the Alaskan Independence Party or the Whigs. And, of course, heâs suddenly a birther. âThis guy either has a birth certificate or he doesnât,â he said of President Obama. âI didnât think this was such a big deal, but, I will tell you, itâs turning out to be a very big deal because people now are calling me from all over saying: please donât give up on this issue.â It was a perfect vocalization of the New York Street: People are calling me up! Donât believe everything you hear, unless it comes over the phone. In a potential Republican field that includes Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, itâs hard to come up with a line of attack loopy enough to stand out from the pack. But darned if Trump didnât manage to find one. âIf he wasnât born in this country, itâs one of the greatest scams of all time,â Trump told Bill OâReilly, who demurred: âI donât think thatâs the case.â Vote for Donald Trump, the man who can make Bill OâReilly look like the most sensible guy in the room. Trumpâs main argument for why he should be taken seriously as a presidential contender is his business success. Has Obama ever hosted a long-running reality series? Owned a bankruptcy-bound chain of casinos? Put his name on a flock of really unattractive high-rise apartment buildings? No! âBy now my name is big enough and equated with the gold standard to the extent that I donât have to say too much about it,â wrote Trump in one of his books, before going on to say a lot more about it. He is extremely sensitive to any gibes about his business record, which has been up and down over the years. During one down period, I referred to him in print as a âfinancially embattled thousandaireâ and he sent me a copy of the column with my picture circled and âThe Face of a Dog!â written over it. Trump was one of the first people I interviewed when I came to New York as a reporter back in the â80s when he was a developer-wunderkind who had started in the business with nothing but a smile, a dream and his fatherâs large holdings in real estate. Heâs still promoting, 24/7. Some people believe that his presidential flirtations are an attempt to draw viewers to his TV show, âCelebrity Apprentice.â In it, people who are alleged to be famous compete for money for their favorite charities and what one former contestant revealed was a salary of $16,000 apiece. That isnât much for network TV work, but since one of this yearâs celebrities, disgraced former steroid-using baseball player Jose Canseco, recently tried to make a $5,000 fee by sending his brother to impersonate him in an exhibition boxing match, you have to figure it comes in handy. âCelebrity Apprenticeâ is widely regarded as terrible and cheesy programming, but, actually, it has its moments. I recently saw an episode in which a former top model had a serious discussion with a fellow competitor about whether this was the 20th century or the 21st. You canât get stuff like that on âMad Men.â The series is a perfect reflection of Trump himself: an orgy of product-placement and personal aggrandizement. All the contestants, including the ones in their 70s, have to refer to their host as âMr. Trump.â They all somberly devote themselves to making faux commercials about whatever enterprise has coughed up cash for a major mention that week. Then itâs off to the boardroom where people talk ceaselessly about their performance in order to stretch the whole enterprise into a low-cost, two-hour show. When you think about it, âCelebrity Apprenticeâ has a lot in common with the current Republican presidential campaign. Endless blathering. Strange contenders who did something vaguely notable in 1986. And Donald Trump, looking extremely cheerful. Beyond having the moral fortitude to tell Dionne Warwick she is fired, Trumpâs qualifications for being president of the United States include having co-written a large number of books, including âThink Big and Kick Assâ (âPeople always ask me: âHow did you get so rich?â â) and âNever Give Up.â (âThis book is about a subject near and dear to my heart â never giving up.â) To establish his birther creds, this week Trump produced his own birth certificate, after one failed attempt in which he came up with a document that was too weak to qualify for a passport. By the time he worked things out, we had an entire news cycle devoted to Donald Trump having been born in New York. Now, letâs try asking to see his tax returns.