Donald Trump is "not playing games" with his possible presidential campaign, he insists. "I am totally serious," the reality star told The Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. And Trump has indeed taken steps to run a real campaign: sending his top political adviser to Iowa to meeting with fundraisers and Republican officials, promising to sign a pledge to refuse to raise taxes. With Trump now polling strongly GOP voters, the Republican establishment is starting to take his candidacy more seriously. Which means they've started attacking him.

Among signs that Trump is edging out of the fake candidate tier and into the top contender tier: The Club for Growth is criticizing him. Before Trump was speaking before Tea Partiers, he was offering not-quite-so-conservative ideas in his earlier presidential flirtations. In a post titled "Club for Growth to Trump: You're a Liberal!" the organization mocked him as "a tax-hiking liberal whose open flirtation with single-payer health care and warm embrace of protectionism disqualifies him from consideration by conservatives." Karl Rove called Trump a "joke candidate." Charles Krauthammer called him "the Al Sharpton of the Republican Party." Major Republican fundraiser Bobbie Kilberg told King, "Some people may see this as comic relief, but this is not good at all for the Republican Party."

But Sarah Palin, for one, is taking Trump seriously. Tuesday night she criticized reporters for picking on Trump, Politico's Andy Barr reports. Palin said the press is "hammering [Trump] about the one issue that he has brought up and not been shy about--that's the birth certificate. ... He's answering reporters' questions about his view on the birth certificate. And reporters turn that around and say that's all he's got. ...  That's not the case."

It seems Palin had not seen Savannah Guthrie's remarkable interview with Trump on the Today Show that morning. The pair had a fascinating exchange not on the president's citizenship, but on the deficit, and Trump's confusing theories on how to deal with it. From the transcript:
 

Guthrie: Do you support the Ryan plan to bring the deficit down by $4 trillion?

Trump: I'm concerned about doing anything that's going to tinker too much with Medicare. I protect the senior citizens. ... I think Paul Ryan is too far out front with the issue...

Guthrie: How do you not touch entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security . That's where the debt problem is. How do you touch the debt problem without that?

Trump: By stopping what's going on in the world. The world is destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength. OPEC is sapping our strength. We can't pay $108 a barrel oil. It's sapping our country. By the way, they are going to raise it higher because Saudi Arabia said, There is plenty of oil.

Guthrie: How does that go to the debt crisis?

Trump: We want to create a strong country again and you can solve the deficit problem the easiest way.

Guthrie: Would you raise taxes to attack the deficit?

Trump: I don't think you have to. If we get this economy going again and we can do it by getting jobs, bringing jobs back, bringing them back. Let the other countries worry about themselves.

Guthrie: Should the U.S. cut defense spending to attack the deficit?

Trump: No. Not in my opinion. We need great defense. I guarantee you of all the Republicans I'm the strongest on defense.

Guthrie: The debt ceiling vote. Republicans are saying they don't think it should be raised. Businesses have warned there could be dire consequences.

Trump: I don't care. I wouldn't raise it.

Guthrie: And that could send the country back into recession?

Trump: Most economists aren't that smart and most are wrong most of the time. I would not raise the debt ceiling.

Guthrie: You don't think the U.S. defaulting would be grave for the economy?

Trump: I'd stop raising the debt ceiling now. go out, negotiate, make deals.

Guthrie: Who is the deal to be made with?

Trump: The president should be leading the deal, but I don't think he's capable enough to lead the deal. You have the Republican here...

Guthrie: Are you talking about a political deal?

Trump: Ultimately it's all political when you get down to it, isn't it?