So to those of you still wondering what the hell Donald Trump is up to in the Republican presidential campaign, I think I have the answer, and it isn't as crazy or enigmatic as one might think.
As a bit of a conspiracy buff, Trump's presidential run is throwing my conspiratorial spidey sense into overdrive. All the clues are there. Heck, Trump is even telling us what he's up to, if we know how to listen.
First of all, we know the guy can't be serious. Anyone who suggests a female journalist must be bleeding "out of her whatever" can't be seriously eyeing a leadership position. While it's true that Trump is an entertainer, a sideshow, and a clown, at the same time he is a savvy businessman who must have some angle beyond just his own ego-driven amusement. What, then, is his angle? Let's look at the clues.
When asked in the recent Fox News debate whether any of the Republican candidates would run as an independent if they did not win the Republican nomination, Trump was the only one who raised his hand.
In a climate of increasing polarization and distrust of political elitism, this kind of honesty draws boos from primary debate crowds, but it draws mostly cheers from the casual TV viewer. This appearance of unpolished, unpolitician-like frankness attracts the laser beam of media attention, inflates Trump's polling numbers, and leaves the remaining candidates relatively unscrutinized.
Trump is taking all the damaging slings and arrows which might otherwise be hurled toward the 800-pound Jeb-shaped gorilla in the room during the Republican primaries. He is the Ghost Army on the political battlefield, absorbing all the damage and attention which normally accompany early primary leaders.
Moreover, if his popularity continues, he is setting himself up to be a kingmaker in the general election. Even if he loses the primary, his decision to run as an independent candidate could hand the election to a Democrat like Hillary Clinton. Likewise, his decision not to run would clearly favor the Republican nominee.
This is leverage. This is the same kind of leverage a real estate mogul like Trump might use in making the deals for which he's so famous. He's already begun to inject the idea of this leverage into his interviews, telling The Hill recently in response to questions about an independent run, "I'll have to see how I'm being treated by the Republicans...if they're not fair, that would be a factor."
He expounded on this during the recent debate and in a post debate interview with Sean Hannity. When asked again why he would not rule out an independent run, he said "why should I give up that leverage?"
This is tantamount to hoisting the jolly roger and threatening to start slitting throats on the high seas of presidential politics. He is all but publicly declaring his willingness to making backroom deals with the other candidates. We already know he is not shy about buying political favors, bragging glibly during the debate that he donates to politicians, Hillary Clinton included, to gain favors, even managing to do it in such a way that seems endearing and further promotes himself as a shoot-from-the-hip, populist maverick. Speaking of the Clinton connection, recent speculation has even suggested Trump was encouraged to run by none other than Bill Clinton, adding to the conspiratorial intrigue.
Trump's presence in the process, coupled with his disconnection from any political office, means he can say whatever he wants without fear of losing more than he stands to gain. His leverage means that his risk is minimized - even if he loses, he wins. Ultimately, running for president will be Trump's best value for money, costing him less and gaining him more than if he tried to buy the same political favoritism the old fashioned billionaire way of funding both sides of an election.
The net effect of having Trump in the election process is the United States will eventually see the very thing most people scoffed would never happen again - another Clinton v. Bush general election - but the twist is, now Trump will be in a position to pick which president will benefit him most.
Think this all sounds crazy? Talk to me again in about nine months. In the meantime, perhaps we should all re-read Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal", and get wise to the game he's playing.