Does Donald Trump Have a Flesh-Pressing Problem?

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Not everyone is as sterile as Miss USA. Photo: Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic

Fresh off the heels off a somewhat unbelievable poll that shows him trailing President Obama by a mere two points in a head-to-head matchup, Donald Trump has told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, "Most people out there think this is a joke — that I'm doing this for publicity. Imagine what happens the day I announce I am actually running for president." Meanwhile, political operative Roger Stone, a cheerleader and close ally, tells Politico that while a decision is far off, Trump "seems far more serious than he has [in the past]." But Stone also mentions something else:

[H]e added, “I think even people who don’t like him have a certain fascination with him ... He's Donald Trump. There's a public fascination. So I don't think he has to go shake hands among the pig farmers.”

Besides, Stone added of the notorious germaphobe Trump: “We’re well aware of his position on hand-shaking.”

Indeed we are. In case you weren't aware, Trump hates shaking hands. In his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback, he wrote, "One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands, and the more successful and famous one becomes the worse this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible." On a number of occasions, he later referred to handshaking as "barbaric."

This poses something of a problem. Shaking the germ-infested hands of strangers is as much a part of presidential campaigning as repetitive speeches and empty promises. Whether pressing the flesh in Iowa coffee shops or working the rope line after a speech, shaking hands is one way that candidates show that they're "men of the people." Roger Stone's speculation notwithstanding, this would seem to be a particularly vital ritual for a billionaire real-estate tycoon/TV celebrity.

The reality is that despite Trump's druthers, he does it all the time, because of, you know, society. But handshaking on the scale expected of presidential candidates? Could Trump actually deal with shaking thousands upon thousands of greasy, dirty, sweaty, snotty hands, over and over again? In fact, people wondered the same thing the first time Trump mulled a presidential run, in 1999. In an interview with Dateline's Stone Phillips, Trump insisted it wouldn't be a problem:

PHILLIPS: If you're going to run for president, you got to shake a lot of hands and you make no secret of the fact that you don't like to shake hands with people you don't know because you're afraid of the germs.

Mr. TRUMP: Well, I'm not a big fan of shaking hands...

PHILLIPS: How are you going to run for office and not press the flesh?

Mr. TRUMP: Maybe we'll change something there. Look, if I have to do it, I do it. I'm not a big fan, that when I'm having dinner, and I'm eating, and I'm ready to pick up a roll or something, and a guy walks out of a bathroom and says, Mr. Trump, I'm a big fan of yours, can I shake your hand? Now the good news is you don't eat the roll, that's the good news, OK? Because it's always positive. But, you know, I am not a big fan of the handshake. I think it's barbaric. They have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don't catch?

PHILLIPS: If you hit the campaign trail, will you shake hands?

Mr. TRUMP: I will be shaking hands.

PHILLIPS: Will you kiss babies?

Mr. TRUMP: I'd kiss babies, well, kissing babies isn't so bad. I'd much rather do that than shake hands.

Of course, as it turned out, Trump didn't end up running after all, so this was never tested. But even his few short months as a pseudo-prospective candidate were an issue for Trump, as he told Fox News' Neil Cauvto in 2002:

CAVUTO: Let me step back. When you were contemplating a run for the presidency, a lot of people at the time did not think it was credible. But they said that you got the bug, you got the feeling and that you did not rule it out in the future. Did you?

TRUMP: Well, I got good poll numbers, but I never liked doing it. You know, I was just looking ahead...

CAVUTO: You had to shake all those hands.

TRUMP: I had to shake too many hands. That was always a problem.

The chances are that if Trump really wants to be president, he's not going to let his germophobic tendencies stand in the way. God help him though if he ever refuses the hand of a pig farmer.