NEW YORK - In his own words, Donald Trump is the very definition of American success. So why jeopardize a billion-dollar business empire for a populist shot at the White House?
The flamboyant tycoon, reality TV star and the mogul instantly recognizable to millions by his complicated comb-over, sits atop a dazzling empire of real estate, hotels and golf courses.
He's called Mexicans rapists, insulted his rivals, hijacked the start of the Women's British Open and lost a string of highly publicized business deals as a result.
But doing business, experts believe, is what his improbable bid for the presidency is all about. He doesn't want the White House - he wants leverage that could earn him a bigger fortune, they say.
"Donald Trump is in the business of polishing the Trump brand," says Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University in New York. "He knows he's not going to be president." In an article headlined "Donald Trump's brazen genius," The Economist suggested the mogul had his eye on political leverage "worth a fortune" in the red-tape of real estate.
If he can wield enough influence and gather enough steam, Chiagouris believes he could cut the mother of all deals if he can anoint the successful White House nominee.
"He's going to stay in it until the very end and, when it's clear there are a couple of contenders and his support could swing it one way or the other," he told AFP.
Trump calls himself "a deal maker without peer." But what exactly he might want in exchange, is anyone's guess.
A huge tax break, building a casino or stopping someone else's casino, wondered The Economist.
Eye on Cuba?
Chiagouris hazarded a guess that Cuba and acquiring a new holiday resort might be on the radar.
"Maybe Trump wants the Trump brand to dominate the Cuban landscape and it would be easier to do if the president of the United States was a supporter of the Trump brand," he said.
Rick Wilson, a media strategist for Republican candidates, says nothing about Trump suggests a serious nose for politics.
He is not a member of the Republican party, nor is he a conservative, Wilson said, pointing to his liberal record on gun control and abortion - and past donations to the Clintons.
"The bad option," he says, is that he lasts until the Republican Convention. "The cataclysmic option" is that he runs as a third-party candidate, splits the Republican vote and hands the election to Hillary Clinton, he adds.
"I think it's purely a branding exercise," Wilson told AFP. "This is a guy who wants to enhance the Donald Trump brand." It's a brand that could use a little help, having taken anything from a bruising to a battering, depending on whom you believe.
Trump told the Federal Election Commission he was worth more than US$10 billion (S$13.8 billion).
Forbes magazine insists his riches are no more than US$4 billion and Bloomberg as little as US$2.9 billion.
Chiagouris doubts that lost contracts have knocked more than five percent off his net worth.
Dumped, but not out
The Trump Organization is a conglomerate of real estate, hotels, golf courses, entertainment, a string of best-selling books about how to make money, mattresses - even perfume.
In his financial disclosure form, Trump listed nearly two dozen assets valued at more than $50 million each, dominated by US real estate, golf clubs and a Florida resort.
He started his career in an office shared with his father in the distinctly unglamorous Sheepshead Bay, an enclave of Brooklyn known today as a hub for immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
He grew up in nearby Queens, son of a Scottish immigrant mother. Trump's father's parents hailed from Germany, and turned their family name Drumpf into Trump - not uncommon American marketing to Anglicize family names back then.
More than 40 years later, tourists flock to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, browsing the gift shop or chowing down a burger in the basement cafeteria if the eye-watering prices of the hotel's three-star Michelin restaurant are beyond their means.
There is barely a corner of Manhattan he hasn't conquered with luxury residential buildings, Trump Parc, Trump Palace, Trump Plaza, 610 Park Avenue and Trump Park Avenue.
He restored the outside of Grand Central Terminal, and owned and sold New York's iconic Plaza Hotel. Until 2002, he even owned the land under the Empire State Building.
According to his financial disclosure, he can earn US$450,000 as a speaker. He even has a vineyard in Virginia.
Being dumped by NBC and Macy's may have created an image problem - but lost revenue is hardly breaking the bank.
At Trump's New York headquarters, representatives denied the political roller-coaster has driven away business.
"The Trump brand is incredibly strong," a spokesperson said. "Mr. Trump and his family have built a great company."