And he may be the most brilliant business-political hybrid the world has ever seen.
Round 2 of the GOP debates was further proof that Jon Stewart was right: No matter how dirty it makes you feel, you just can't stop watching the Trump Show.
But one thing is certain: Mr. Trump cannot lose.
Because he's already won.
There are four ways this could end.
First, Mr. Trump wins. The whole thing. Given how unlikely this scenario is, it doesn't deserve a terrible amount of attention. Even in the unlikely event of him winning the primary, a full success in the general is satire. Regardless, this is the clearest version of victory.
Second, he drops out. When, how, why -- doesn't matter. This is still definitely a win. Mr. Trump is undeniably a well-known figure, but the primary has exponentially increased his name and face recognition around the world. Single-handedly, with no (discernible) strategy, no political experience or savvy, and only at the cost of a fraction of his personal net worth, he has hijacked the election cycle of the most powerful nation on earth. He could easily win back whatever he spent on his candidacy in new business relationships, due to this meteoric increase in his international profile. And if he continues not to solicit cash, he betrays no one. If his motives are completely selfish, the whole thing is a brilliant marketing campaign.
Third, he runs as a third party. Yes, he signed the "Pledge." Of course he did: it puts him on the South Carolina Primary. But it is foolish to assume that this would stop him; he can certainly afford to face "sore loser" laws, and the political spin would be child's play -- it might even increase his support among anti-establishment conservatives. Sure, he loses the general, but he takes down the GOP primary winner with him. For a narcissist, this isn't defeat -- it's Thermopoylae. After all, what is left for a self-obsessed, billionaire septuagenarian but to take a shot at becoming the most powerful political leader in the world?
Whatever percentage he takes home on an independent ticket is still more than anyone else could -- he is likely to think. And even his most vociferous opponents concede some strange charisma, or ability to take advantage of a vitriolic portion of the U.S. which finds his unabashed gives-no-fucks attitude alluring, which resulted in his success. In this case, he takes his percentage and sabotage home as trophies, and he dies as "happy" as narcissists can.
Fourth -- and by far most interesting -- he reveals himself to be the most successful Manchurian troll in history. Mr. Trump's prior liberal leanings and democratic associations are well-known. Nevertheless, his opponents cannot seem to make them stick.
But it is not hard to imagine Mr. Trump -- having either bowed out, or running as a third party -- entering a press conference with that shit-eating grin on his face, smugly spitting that this was his plan all along. To hold a mirror up to the Republican Party -- not a carnival-distortion, as some accuse him, but one that reflects all its flaws with crystal fidelity. To become the GOP front-runner by stating things that no other candidate dares (though they increasingly try), yet which echo a strong portion of their base.
His numbers prove that the party contains a sufficiently-damning faction which is not just disillusioned with D.C. and career politicians, but whose hearts pump battery acid whenever they encounter a brown person speaking another language or worshipping differently, or a woman in a position of power with the audacity to expect the same respect as a man for the same work, or whatever other flavor of ignorance and bigotry.
If Mr. Trump successfully scuttles the GOP presidential election (and others), and claims that this was the whole point, he doesn't just win, he potentially shatters the party itself by reflecting all of its Paleolithic flaws -- and on such a tremendous stage that no one can deny it.
Best of all: Mr. Trump could conceivably accomplish these goals in combination.
What could be more satisfying for an aging megalomaniac than to run for the most powerful position in the history of the world, garner a percentage of success, at little cost to himself which would likely be won back shortly, exposing the most embarrassing and terrible aspects of half the political power structure, and not just sabotaging their chances but possibly even boring an unpluggable hole in their structure? What could be more likely? Regardless of his original intentions, it is biography rather than speculation to assume that he will convert any defeat into victory.
And it would work.
The only way Mr. Trump could lose now is if he is deranged enough both to think that he can win the whole thing, and that nothing else will satisfy him. But this stretches credulity, even for Mr. Trump. He may be pure id, but in a way that is usually more self-serving than self-consuming.
Only time will tell, but at this point the only person who can defeat Mr. Trump is Mr. Trump.
Because he has already won.