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Is Rick Perry winning the 'Donald Trump primary'?

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Craig Ruttle/AP

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrives at Trump Tower in New York last Wednesday for a meeting with real estate developer Donald Trump.

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Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and the rest of the GOP field already have lots of contests to worry about. There are the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, Super Tuesday votes, and so forth – all leading up to the Republican National Conventional in Tampa, Fla., next August.

And now it appears as if these weary aspirants face a new hurdle: the battle for Donald Trump’s approval.

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It’s true – Texas Governor Perry had dinner with the Donald in Manhattan last week, as you may have heard. They ate at Jean-Georges, a place so exclusive the only thing it chicken-fries is your credit rating.

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“It was very good. He knows his restaurants,” Perry told reporters waiting outside.

(Trump knows his tenants, at least – Jean-Georges is located in a Trump building that overlooks Central Park.)

Not to be outdone – and he tries never to be outdone, like he’s running for 2012 GOP class valedictorian and is determined to have more extra credits than anybody – Mr. Romney has requested a meeting with Mr. Trump, and will meet the real estate/gambling/celebrity mogul in New York on Sept. 26, according to ABC News.

Trump has already had in Michele Bachmann – he talked with her in July.

“I was very impressed with her, and I think she’s highly underrated,” Trump told Piers Morgan on CNN afterward.

And in May, Trump had pizza with Sarah Palin, who isn’t running, but might, especially if something bad happens to Perry’s poll numbers. Palin’s “a terrific woman and a terrific friend” said Trump following their meal.

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Why are all these Republicans beating a path to the Donald’s penthouse? We won’t call this “Celebrity Presidential Apprentice,” because that’s too obvious, and we’d feel obligated to make a lame reference to Meat Loaf. So we’ll frame it as the Trump primary, or the Trump caucuses, if you prefer.

What do the presidential candidates hope to gain by winning?

First, we’ll start with the most obvious thing – money. Perry packaged his trip to Trumpville with fundraising in Manhattan. Do you think prospective donors might be more open to give if they knew Perry was tight with New York’s most famous comb over? They might be – and Trump and his friends could give, too.

Second, Trump himself says they want his voters. He was briefly the front-runner himself, if you remember, and he talks as if he’s something of a political boss with a following.

“The fact is, I have a lot of people that agree with what I’m saying, and all the candidates want to have that,” Trump told Greta van Susteren on Fox News earlier this month.

Third, candidates may be vying for a coveted Trump endorsement. Trump’s blustery attacks on President Obama played well with many GOP conservatives, despite (or maybe because of) his questions about Mr. Obama’s birth certificate.

Whether he gets an actual endorsement or not, Perry already seems to have picked up some political pointers from Trump, writes Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. Trump won plaudits from Republican voters for his willingness to excoriate the current president. So far, that’s Perry’s style, too.

“The seed of Trump’s idea – casting oneself as a fighter willing to take it to Obama – is now bearing fruit for Perry,” wrote Mr. Cillizza last week.

Of course, Donald Trump is himself a master of the publicity universe, so it’s possible the dynamic here runs the other way. Maybe he’s using the GOP contenders to remain in the US 2012 presidential conversation.

He continues to act as if there’s a chance he might reconsider his decision to not run himself and toss his checkbook back into the arena. When Ms. van Susteren pressed him as to whether he might still be a candidate, Trump said this: “I would be most happy if somebody came along and just did a fantastic job ... if I don’t see that happening, I will talk to you again.”

We believe that’s a lock. There is a 100 percent chance that, sometime soon, for some reason or other, at a time and on a network of his choosing, Donald Trump will indeed talk again.