Yesterday's media circus over Barry Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate made one thing clear: Donald Trump can play the media like his own personal fiddle.
The conspiracy over whether Obama is a naturally born citizen has existed in the whispering classes for years, and Obama ignored it. But when the Donald whipped up the story to a fever pitch, Obama weighed in. The President got played by a reality TV star. Ouch.
Trump's strategy was clear. And genius. He used his whirlwind tour to whip up support for a possible Presidential campaign by using the "birther conspiracy" as a means to gain attention. He went on any talk show or news channel that would have him. And he would use a mix of press clip-generating quotes on Obama's birth certificate to drive coverage, which had the added advantage of mentioning he was considering running for President.
If Trump actually cared about the birth certificate issue he would have weighed in years ago. And he probably wouldn't have directed 54% of his considerable financial donations to Democrats.
But Trump doesn't care. He knows the media will eat out of his palm if he feeds them cable-news crack. He promises to excise oil fields from nations Middle and East of here not because he thinks that's a feasible energy strategy, but because it will drive coverage of his potential campaign.
And his strategy worked, with several polls showing him skyrocketing to the top of the primary field. Republicans are not content with the current crop of candidates, feeling they lack zest, and zest is something Trump has in spades. Serious candidates are holding their fire right now, working the early states and building professional organizations.
But Trump jumped in the fray and started firing in every direction. When every other candidate appears vanilla, it's not surprising the Rocky Road (with nuts) candidate inspires interest.
There is no denying it — politics is entertainment. Those 24/7 punditocracies on cable news need to fill air space and they need to fill it with people and stories that attract the widest attention. Trump gets all of this and has used it to his great benefit.
Whether or not Trump runs, he wins. Trump's wealth in many ways is tied to the Trump brand. His name on a project automatically gives it more heft and media attention. By dominating media coverage for even a few weeks he further improves his brand of brash confidence and media savvy.
We wonder if there are any enterprising economists out there who might conduct an analysis into what the economic value is to all the free media attention Trump will gain with his Presidential flirtations. It's got to be worth a pretty penny.