Politics: Raj Against the Machine

Ask Apprentice addicts how they remember Raj Bhakta, the bow-tied flirt from the show’s second season, and you’ll get something like “goofy, but smart,” or maybe a comment about Bhakta hitting on tennis babe Anna Kournikova.

Two years post-Trump, the Oxford Circle native is still a character. Now, however, his role is that of congressional candidate: He’s running as a Republican against Allyson Schwartz for her 13th District seat. “If this country doesn’t undertake serious reform, I’m afraid that a generation from now, America won’t be the greatest country,” he says. No matter how anodyne his political rhetoric, though, Bhakta can’t sidestep a basic question about his motives: Was his Apprentice appearance part of a calculated effort to jump-start a political career? Or is he running for Congress to extend his 15 minutes of pseudo-fame?

Bhakta seems unconcerned with this baggage. He credits The Apprentice with giving him great publicity, and refutes the suggestion that he’s a politico-come-lately. (“I got in a fight with a kid over the USSR in third grade.”) And he certainly doesn’t lack for ambition (“I’m trying to save the country, for chrissake”) or confidence: When asked how he expects to be received in Congress, Bhakta replies: “With applause.”

Still, Bhakta’s bid faces some major obstacles, including two DUI arrests, a lack of political experience, and campaign funds totaling less than a quarter of Schwartz’s $2.15 million. It perhaps also doesn’t help that a documentary film crew is capturing his every move, or that he had planned an Apprentice-like competition for potential congressional staffer jobs (legal issues have forced him to reconfigure) — decisions that could be taken as evidence that Bhakta is more serious about the spotlight than about getting into office. “Name recognition is good, and all publicity is good,” says political consultant Larry Ceisler. “But he has to reshape his image to show that he could seriously represent the 13th district.” Even if he doesn’t win, it won’t be the first time Bhakta’s faced rejection in the limelight.