In the “gotcha” era, most people who think about running for elective office are so afraid of offending someone that they don’t say anything interesting.

Not Donald Trump. And here’s the reason: The Donald doesn’t care if we like him — because, as is plainly obvious, he loves himself enough for everyone.

For most phenomenally successful people, their greatest gift is also their worst affliction: self-adoration. And Trump, whose net worth is said to exceed $2 billion, is a prime example.

So, as the real estate investor-turned-reality TV star toys with running for president — even if, as many people suggest, it is just to create media buzz to boost ratings for his television show, “The Apprentice” — Trump can say things that other candidates won’t dare utter. Like suggesting that President Obama might not have been born in the United States.

The liberal media went ballistic. But Trump just tossed it back. It seems that he cares even less what the media thinks of him — and that is saying something for someone who has spent so much of his life seeking media attention.

And, in a world where presidential candidates are taught the art of talking without really saying anything, a number of Republicans seem to find Trump and his brazenness refreshing.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that asked likely GOP voters who they would support for president found Trump tied with Mike Huckabee at 19 percent. Sarah Palin came in second, with 12 percent. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were tied in third place, each with 11 percent.

An earlier Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll put Trump in second place, again tied with Huckabee, this time at 17 percent. Both trailed Romney who led the poll with 21 percent. Gingrich was in third place, with 11 percent. And Trump led the entire GOP field in support from self-described tea party voters, who represent an important part of the Republican base.

Here are the secrets to Trump’s success. For one, he is the new Sarah Palin. Whereas once the broadcast media couldn’t stop talking about the former Alaska governor — even if only to criticize her — it now gives that around-the-clock attention to Trump.

Also, Trump stepped into the vacuum created when the candidate that most GOP primary voters would love to see run for president — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — said he would sit out the 2012 race. Like Trump, Christie speaks his mind, likes a good fight, and doesn’t seem to care what people think of him.

Lastly, Trump is a good alternative to the person who was thought to be the presumptive Republican front-runner until the poll data started rolling in: Romney. The former Massachusetts governor isn’t a favorite of tea party voters, and it doesn’t help that he comes across as arrogant and dismissive.

Ruben Navarrette can be  reached at rubennavarrette.com.

Here’s one example: A couple of years ago, when Time magazine put Palin on its list of “the most influential people,” Romney was asked about it and quipped to the reporter: “Was that the issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people?”

Now, was that really necessary? Romney has two degrees from Harvard — in law and business, and Palin went to at least four different colleges in six years to get a degree. And he has to pick on her? Why? Because she could turn out 20,000 people for rallies and Romney couldn’t?

The co-founder of Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm, Romney is a smart and capable fellow with an estimated net worth in the neighborhood of $200 million, but he’s not especially likable. And this made him vulnerable to a challenge. So here comes Trump, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business who has arguably been more successful than Romney and who — judging from most of the polls — seems to have greater appeal with Republican voters. At last, a fair fight.

Romney knows who his real competition is. During a recent appearance on CNBC’s “Kudlow Report,” he said that he disagrees with Trump that there are doubts about Obama’s citizenship and thinks it’s time to stop questioning it.

For the tea party and some other members of the GOP base, a comment like this will only raise more doubts about Romney and build more support for Trump.

Score another point for The Donald. If you think Trump loved himself before he started playing politics, just wait.

Ruben Navarrette can be  reached at rubennavarrette.com.

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