WASHINGTON — Sure, he's out of the GOP presidential race, but The Donald isn't content to sit on the sidelines. Donald Trump wants a say in who gets the nomination, so he's hosting a presidential debate, holding out the prospect of his endorsement and threatening an independent run.
All that has some conservatives grousing that Trump's involvement is tarnishing the GOP's image and diminishing the Republican presidential field as it tries to field a candidate to beat President Barack Obama next year.
"GOP candidates would be foolish to show up at Trump's clown circus/ debate. Walk away," Republican strategist Mike Murphy advised on Twitter.
Republican strategist Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's longtime adviser, added on Fox News: "What the heck are the Republican candidates doing showing up at a debate with a guy who says, 'I may run for president next year as an independent'?"
Trump, predictably, is undeterred.
On Monday, the TV celebrity met with Newt Gingrich, the latest presidential contender to visit Trump's New York offices in search of his support, and he released a campaign-style book to offer his views on the economy and the media in his typically bombastic style.
In a round of TV interviews, he blistered many of the GOP candidates, saying that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney "doesn't get the traction" he needs to nail down the nomination and calling Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman "joke candidates."
Given the field, Trump added, "I would certainly think about running as an independent."
Earlier this year, Trump suggested he might seek the GOP nomination but ultimately decided against it — as he has during past elections.
It was around that time that Trump was somewhat marginalized when Obama himself sought to put to rest questions that the Republican had stoked about whether the president was eligible to serve in the White House. Obama released his "long form" birth certificate showing that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii in 1961.
Obama also suggested that Trump could be lumped in with "side shows and carnival barkers," and he used his appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner to mock Trump, who was sitting in the audience glowering.
Despite that, Trump tried to stoke the "birther" issue anew Monday, saying on MSNBC: "Whether or not he was born here, you know, to me it means something. I guess it doesn't mean a lot to a lot of people. To me it happens to mean something."
So far, only Gingrich, a former House speaker, has committed to attend the Dec. 27 debate.
Huntsman said he wouldn't be there. "I'm not going to kiss his ring and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy," he said.
"This is exactly what is wrong with politics. It's show business over substance," Huntsman said on Fox News.
Paul also planned to skip it, telling CNN that he didn't understand why candidates were seeking Trump's support.
"I didn't know he had the ability to lay on hands and anoint people," Paul said.
Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota have met with Trump. Businessman Herman Cain, who ended his campaign on Saturday, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also visited with him.