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A Trumped-up candidacy

There's nothing in the Constitution that says a candidate for president must be a seasoned politician. But Donald Trump? Don't be ridiculous.

In a year when a dozen or more Republicans are running for the nomination or contemplating it, the braggadocious real estate tycoon and television reality buffoon has made a mockery of the old axiom that every mother's son (and daughter, for that matter) can become president.

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Fringe candidates with no earthly claim to be equipped for the job are indigenous to our already wildly out-of-control political process. The Supreme Court's decision that money is speech has invited an unlimited flow from a relative handful of fat-cat buyers of candidates.

It can be argued that Donald Trump is at least using his own riches, which he declared at a circus-like press conference at New York's Trump Tower to be $8.7 billion and loose change. The extravaganza served to underscore that the American presidency is already for sale, so why shouldn't a prince of free enterprise push his pile of chips in?

This blatant hijacking of the ballot box in what is supposed to be the crown jewel of collective self-government already requires un-rich seekers of national power to spend half or more of their time raising campaign money, including by sucking up to celebrated fat cats.

After Richard Nixon won the 1968 election, significantly bankrolled by a Chicago insurance tycoon as his sugar daddy, Congress made a sincere effort at campaign finance reform. But after the Watergate fiasco, big-bucks lobbying eventually eroded the reforms, and the dikes have been washed away.

In both parties, early efforts by "unaffiliated" super PACs have given this season's principal beneficiaries — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush — huge war chests with which to intimidate their competitors.

Costly state primary and caucus elections face all the candidates in early 2016, obliging the underfunded to depend on their persuasive powers in candidate debates to survive the money tsunami of Ms. Clinton and Mr. Bush washing over them.

Even Mr. Trump's bankroll may not buy him into those debates, in which the candidates' standing in the polls apparently will determine who gets on the stage and in front of the television cameras. But he can still hang around as a reminder of a badly flawed political process that already has a huge credibility problem.

The last time a wealthy business tycoon bought himself into serious voter consideration for the presidency was in 1992, when Ross Perot of Texas ran as an independent candidate. Also a political neophyte, Mr. Perot brought in seasoned professionals and bankrolled a legitimate campaign built on volunteers, and was invited to join Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George H.W. Bush in debate.

Mr. Perot did well enough with some pointed barbs about the economy, but his presence probably did more harm to Mr. Bush than benefit to himself. On election night he won a surprising 19 percent of the popular vote but no electoral votes, as Mr. Clinton won 43 percent and carried 32 states, to Mr. Bush's 38 percent in 18 states.

But Mr. Trump, unlike Mr. Perot, has no message beyond his oceanic self-regard, which he ladled out in indigestible portions at his announcement. Depending on how long he intends to hang around as a candidate, the question now is how much of a nuisance he wants to make of himself.

The rest of the Republican field has yet to provide the political substance on which the winnowing process will take place among the others. Jeb Bush's early stumbles over his brother's invasion of Iraq have left the field still a clutter in the polls.

Unless the Republican electorate has completely lost its collective mind, Mr. Trump should be winnowed out in all respects but his own publicity-seeking delusions.

At least Ross Perot was amusing in 1992, along with his forgettable running mate, retired Adm. James Stockdale, who asked in introducing himself in debate: "Who am I? Why am I here?" Those are questions Donald Trump would never ask, for sure.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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