Real estate mogul Donald Trump has informed the Federal Election Commission, as required of presidential candidates, that he is worth more than $10 billion. It appears what his campaign is largely about is embellishing his name and brand, not only for fame, but for profit as well.
According to a Washington Post investigation into his wealth, Mr. Trump has turned his name into a cash cow for which many other investors have been willing to pay millions just to hang it on their properties.
Exhibit A is a Post story about the Trump International Golf Club in Puerto Rico. Although the club has filed for bankruptcy, the story says, Mr. Trump "put no money down but took a cut in the annual revenue" without risking any of his own capital.
One of his sons, Eric, an executive in the Trump Organization, is quoted: "We made many millions of dollars on it but never invested a dime."
Other luxury properties now bearing the Trump name or contracted to use it are said by the Post to be "giving Trump cachet and big profits if they succeed but allowing him to avoid liability if they fail."
As for his presidential campaign that has turned the Republican Party into an uproar with his verbal assaults on Mexican immigrants and Sen. John McCain, son Eric told the Post that it "has had an immensely positive impact" in publicizing the Trump brand.
No doubt Donald Trump's rampant egotism is capable of convincing him that he could be a great president. But his reputation as a loose cannon seems to have convinced many others otherwise. The list includes some fellow 2016 candidates, though most have been tardy or timid in criticizing his divisive remarks.
Mr. Trump is not the only public figure who has recognized the potential for personal recognition and aggrandizement in running for the presidency. Some of the most unlikely contenders have joined the Republican competition, also temporarily escaping obscurity and gaining free air time and newsprint.
White House aspirants like Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina this year, and Herman Cain and Ron Paul in earlier campaigns, have climbed on the merry-go-round. Others have tossed their hats in the ring to reap publicity for favorite causes, giving those causes credibility or pressuring rival candidates to embrace them by demonstrating some voter support.
In 2004 and 2008, little-known Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio ran as a conspicuous, relatively lonely critic of the American invasion of Iraq, and never had a chance to be the Democratic nominee. But he enlivened the television debates during the primary period and kept the war issue alive, obliging other candidates to discuss it.
In the 2016 Democratic race, Sen. Bernie Sanders is looked on by many as a vehicle to nudge frontrunner Hillary Clinton to the left on the political spectrum, even as his personal popularity rises.
But Mr. Trump, the author of "The Art of Deal," appears to be using the presidential campaign for neither objective. He is striving to broaden the Trump brand, piggybacking on the political process to enhance his ability to make millions as a wildly successful deal-maker.
He has seized on a significant piece of voter disenchantment with practicing politicians and the Republican establishment, playing on the anti-immigration, anti-government sentiment that remains substantial in that party.
In doing so, he has gained the unscrupulous embrace of at least one conservative rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, riding the same hobbyhorse of public discontent. But Trump has risen to or near the Republican top in the polls, while Cruz has slipped accordingly.
The Donald continues to demonstrate utter disregard for the damage he's inflicting on the GOP brand with his rampage on the stump and on television. In hijacking his own party, he remains more focused on the business he knows infinitely better than the political realm he has invaded. He is reveling in peddling himself to voters who fail to see him as the snake-oil salesman he is, promising to cure a whole nation's ills with bombast and malarkey.
If the party doesn't "fire" him beforehand as the primaries and caucuses unwind, the voters eventually are certain to do so.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.