If this Donald Trump stuff is a branding exercise, it’s one I don’t understand at all

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Donald Trump. (www.trump.com)
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Is there some metric for marketing and P.R. benefits that only Donald Trump knows about?

He's gotten lots of attention from this presidential exercise, even if a fair bit of the attention has been in the form of pleas from reasonable people to other reasonable people not to give Trump any more attention. It is annoying, after all, when journalists are forced to dignify statements by covering them, when the author of the statements can't possibly believe what he's saying.

But it's getting steadily more difficult to see how any of this attention can possibly be useful to Trump. Bill O'Reilly has felt compelled to tell him he was being silly about the "issue" of Obama's birth, to say nothing of Candy Crowley.

So fine, Trump doesn't mind getting in a loud fight with the media over any of this, even when the fight seems to be a very uneven one. But we know he does mind (very much!) when the media actually does reporting into Trump's claims of his own worth, as Trump now gives us a perfect excuse to remind ourselves.

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Clearly, Trump is not ignorable. A poll showed him in second place in New Hampshire. This doesn't mean his candidacy is a serious proposition. But it does mean he's factoring into the race, if only to frustrate the would-be Republican candidates trying to wedge themselves into the picture with Mitt Romney. (Does anyone think Rudy Giuliani is happy about the fact that he's getting bumped from TV spots that he could have used to not answer questions about whether he's a candidate?)

But where does all this leave Trump, when he eventually admits that he's not running?

My guess is that the News is onto something here, with the clowny, hard-to-look-at Trump cover, in terms of what is about to become the default tone of Trump coverage. Presumably that sort of thing will be no more useful to Trump than the sight of Bill Cosby excoriating him. (None of this can be making NBC too comfortable either, one would think.)

Thanks to "The Apprentice," Trump is a highly visible person. I lack the expertise to put a dollar value on his profile, but it is clearly valuable to him, and he is clearly not hurting for exposure. He is a mainstream brand. Or at least, he was, until he ran a pre-presidential campaign designed to appeal to a marginal segment of the electorate.

Finally, it's beginning to look like Trump, a supposed master of public relations, is making a fundamental miscalculation about what he can get away with here. Either that, or he believes the things he's saying.

At what point do we figure this has all gone from being a cynical branding exercise to something a little darker, and crazier?