This week, US billionaire Donald Trump has continued to dominate not only the Republican presidential primary polls, but also the global headlines.
His proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US in the wake of a terrorist attack in California created a media firestorm — even by his standards. The comments resulted in a UK campaign signed by nearly 400,000 people to keep Trump out of the UK, and accusations of “unhinged”, “fascist” and “worse than Voldemort” being thrown in both the political arena and the Twittersphere. The Scottish government stripped him of his title as a business ambassador and an Aberdeen university revoked an honorary degree.
But a more unexpected twist to the tale is unfolding. A conspiracy theory is gaining traction, that the 69-year-old real estate mogul could be running a false flag campaign in order to scupper the Republican Party vote and get his Democratic friend Hillary Clinton elected.
This idea was first aired in July by anti-war activist Justin Raimondo. In a blog post written a few days after Trump took the lead from rival Jeb Bush, Raimondo suggested that the timing of Trump’s entry into the presidential race could only be explained by a secret operation designed to assist Clinton’s Democratic campaign.
“[Trump’s] ties to the Clintons, his past pronouncements, which are in such blatant contradiction to his current fulminations, and the cries of joy from the Clintonian gallery and the media... all point to a single conclusion: the Trump campaign is a Democratic wrecking operation aimed straight at the GOP’s [Republican Party’s] base.
“Donald Trump is a false-flag candidate. It’s all an act, one that benefits his good friend Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party that, until recently, counted the reality show star among its adherents. Indeed, Trump’s pronouncements — the open racism, the demagogic appeals, the faux-populist rhetoric — sound like something out of a Democratic political consultant’s imagination, a caricature of conservatism as performed by a master actor.”
As Trump’s proposals become ever-more radical, this theory starts to makes more sense. Republican politician Carlos Curbelo was quoted in The Miami Herald as saying: “I think there’s a small possibility that this gentleman is a phantom candidate... Mr Trump has a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They were at his last wedding. He has contributed to the Clintons’ foundation. He has contributed to Mrs Clinton’s Senate campaigns. All of this is very suspicious.”
But when asked about this, Trump was quick to shoot it down on the Fox News show Fox & Friends.
“Believe me, from Hillary’s standpoint, the one person she doesn’t want running against her is Donald Trump,” said the former reality TV star. “I’m a businessman. I contribute to everybody. When I needed Hillary, she was there. If I say ‘go to my wedding’, they go to my wedding.”
As for Clinton, if she is in on it, she is playing along.
On her Twitter feed this week Clinton posted a fun ‘quiz’ in reaction to her would-be rival’s comments. “Take the quiz!” she tweeted. “Who said the shameful, dangerous, and extreme quote: Donald Trump or another Republican?”
But there is another, stronger, argument. For a presidential candidate to propose banning people from the US on the basis of their religion, it seems an ulterior motive must be at hand. Surely, even Trump wouldn’t make such dangerous statements that play precisely to a key IS (Islamic State) objective: to drive a rift between the Muslim community and the West.
But perhaps this is just wishful thinking.
As David Freedlander, a US-based political journalist, points out, we should take Trump at face value. “I don’t really think Trump is a Clinton plant. It’s just that he knows the Clintons and all the things he is saying seem like they will hurt the eventual GOP nominee (and thus help Clinton).”
Trump’s motivations may never come to light. But what should be of more concern for global governments and leaders is the fact that, in today’s climate of fear and suspicion, his radical proposals have done little to dampen support for his leadership.
American fear of terrorism right now is as high as immediately after 9/11, according to a poll by The New York Times and CBS News. Perhaps then it is no wonder that 35 percent of Republicans still support Trump, although two-thirds said they expressed concern about the prospect of a Trump presidency, according to the same poll.
If a game is being played for the presidential seat, then the stakes are dangerously high.