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How Donald Trump is trolling the Republican Party

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Charlie Leight/Getty Images

Donald Trump is trolling the GOP.

The real estate mogul vaulted into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates by becoming a megaphone for immigration hard-liners. That's revealed an ugly truth that party leaders have been trying to suppress in their pursuit of Latino voters: Anti-Hispanic bigotry plays well with a chunk of the Republican primary electorate.

Mexican immigrants are "bringing drugs and bringing crime, and they're rapists," Trump said last month. On Saturday, at a rally in Phoenix that had to be moved to the city's convention center to accommodate the crowd, he "tripled down," as Politico put it. "They’re taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us," he said. He invited the father of a young man slain by an unauthorized immigrant to the podium to speak.

Trump's a natural showman — the man who turned "You're fired" into a TV catchphrase — but he's given no indication that he's anything but serious as he whips up nativist passions. The danger for the GOP is that Trump's pitch-perfect parroting of anti-immigration forces — and their support for him in polls — will suggest to Latino voters and others that the whole party is intolerant.

GOP leaders and candidates have no idea what to do about it. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus tried the nice-guy route, asking Trump in a private conversation to tone down his rhetoric. Instead, as he increasingly gets under the skins of his rivals and top GOP officials, Trump is pumping up the volume.

"The silent majority is back, and we’re going to take the country back," he said Saturday, casting himself as the voice for Republican primary voters who feel that their views are getting short shrift. He's also taken to attacking his Republican rivals harshly, by name and, at least in the case of Marco Rubio on immigration, for shifting stances.

It would be hard for Trump to find tacks more damaging to the GOP than the ones he's pursuing now, which is why his candidacy looks like an elaborate trolling of the Republican Party.

I don't use the Internet much, and I certainly don't hang out in chat rooms. What do you mean by "trolling?"

To assess whether Trump is trolling the GOP, it's necessary to have a working definition of the term.

The perfect troll involves taking a position and insisting on it in a way that enrages those who think — but can't prove — that you don't really believe it. The angrier they get, the more you dig in, perpetuating a cycle that leads them to escalating stages of anger. If you ever let on that you're just baiting them, you've failed. For more on trolling, Urban Dictionary provides some good context.

While it's impossible to know what Trump is thinking, the effects of his candidacy track the definition of a troll pretty well.

He's infuriated Republican leaders by convincing a significant chunk of the primary electorate that he means what he says about immigration. The leaders are getting madder and madder because of the fix that puts them in: They can't afford to let Trump make a mockery of the party, but they can't openly rip their own voters for supporting him or try to tear him down publicly. If anything, that might trigger a pro-Trump backlash.

There's good reason for Republican leaders to doubt Trump's authenticity: He has flip-flopped on a variety of positions he's held on public policy in the past. Among them, he supported abortion rights, universal health care, and raising taxes on the rich.

But Trump clearly isn't running to win an award for consistency or, for that matter, to win the presidency. If his candidacy is, in fact, a well-executed troll, Trump will never let on that it was all an act.

The Republican leadership's best hope is that he implodes — or that they can find a way to undermine him with the very voters to whom he's appealing.

That is, the best way to deal with The Donald is a counter-troll operation. Democrats couldn't be more giddy. Trump's even threatening to run a third-party candidacy, which could rob Republicans of needed votes in swing states in 2016.

If Hillary Clinton didn't put him up to that — if emails planning Trump's candidacy weren't on the server she wiped clean — she really missed out on a Machiavellian way to sabotage the GOP.

None of us can claim to know Trump's thinking, but we can judge his actions. Right now, The Donald looks a lot like a troll.