Welcome to the Donald Trump Primary -- Again

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The flamboyant reality-show host has some takers for his Republican primary debate -- and some detractors as well

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Donald Trump, the reality television star who is equal parts mouth and hairdo, has taken it upon himself to host a Republican primary debate on Dec. 27 in Iowa. And while some of the candidates are horrified and refuse to get anywhere near the event, others are seizing the opportunity to court the man who had a shockingly well-received presidential flirtation of his own earlier this year. A rundown of who's playing in the Trump primary:

* Newt Gingrich: All-in. The newly minted front-runner loves a stage, and he loves The Donald, too. He was the first candidate to accept Trump's invitation to the Dec. 27 debate, agreeing without hesitation. On Monday, Gingrich paid Trump a visit in New York City, after which the two held a joint news conference. Gingrich called Trump a "great showman," "great businessman" and "a genuine American icon in his own right."

Gingrich happens to be a member of Trump's Northern Virginia golf club, though a Gingrich spokesman told USA Today the game is not his forte: "I wouldn't call what Newt does 'golfing.' I would say it is closer to walking with an occasional use of a golf club."

* Rick Santorum: Count him in. Still grinding it out in Iowa in hopes his hard work will pay off by the time of the caucuses, Santorum hasn't had a turn atop the polls thus far. The former Pennsylvania senator can use all the attention he can get, even if it means sharing a stage with someone who doesn't exactly share Santorum's strict family values. Santorum tweeted Monday that he'll attend the Trump event.

* Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman: Above such childishness. Both Paul and Huntsman went out of their way to turn down Trump, issuing public statements slamming the event as a stupid stunt. Paul: "The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate ... is beneath the office of the presidency and flies in the face of that office's history and dignity. ... Mr. Trump's participation will contribute to an unwanted circus-like atmosphere." Huntsman: "I'm not going to kiss [Trump's] ring and I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy. This is exactly what is wrong with politics. It's show business over substance."

Paul and Huntsman have frequently found common cause as GOP renegades this primary season, though one of them has surged to second place in Iowa while the other is struggling to break out of single digits in New Hampshire. But they may be coming from slightly different places where Trump is concerned. Paul has had it in for Trump since the latter slammed him offhandedly at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, whereas Huntsman, whose top strategist once derided the Republican Party as "a bunch of cranks," simply disdains anything he finds insufficiently dignified. Trump, for his part, has declared both Paul and Huntsman "joke candidates."

* Michele Bachmann: Huge fan, but no RSVP. Bachmann has paid her respects to The Donald more elaborately than any other candidate, meeting with him four times. She's also the only candidate for whom he's held a campaign event: In October, Bachmann hosted Trump on a tele-town hall of her supporters. A few days ago, she listed Trump among her potential vice presidential picks. But she hasn't committed to attend Trump's event, saying she's worried he may be biased toward another candidate he plans to endorse.

* Mitt Romney, Rick Perry: Holding back. Both Romney and Perry met with Trump in New York over the course of the campaign season, but representatives of their campaigns said they haven't yet decided whether to attend the Iowa debate. Trump recently said Romney "doesn't get the traction" in the presidential race, but defended him against accusations of flip-flopping: "We all change our minds on things."

Image credit: Reuters/Andrew Burton
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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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