Donald Trump arrives onstage before speaking during a campaign stop in South Carolina. Credit: AP/Rainier Ehrhardt

I’m not sure if Neil Steinberg is more aware of himself than other people are, or simply writes about himself more honestly. At any rate, in Wednesday’s Sun-Times he admits (to his own horror) that he’s coming around a little on Donald Trump: “The really scary part is, at least while reading the story [about Trump buckling down to serious and traditional campaigning in Iowa], I found myself nodding my head, thinking, ‘Yes, yes, Donald Trump, working hard, maybe the man deserves to be president.’

“And I had to catch myself, and remember that this is the guy firing up the yahoos and the haters in this country, condemning Muslims, playing into the hands of ISIS, slurring Mexicans, promising results domestic and international that are impossible to achieve and you’d have to be a fool to expect. But I forgot myself, for a moment. Imagine what’s happening to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack.”

I don’t know what’s going on inside the Sixpacks’ heads and I don’t think Steinberg does either. But we know our own heads, and like Steinberg I’m concerned.

All along there have been stories imagining that Trump is playing a cunning game, a liberal Democrat fobbing himself off as a reactionary Republican in order to tear that party into smithereens.

“Could Donald Trump be a secret double-agent, sent by Democrats to destroy their party from within?” asked the BBC last month. BBC reporter Anthony Zurcher noted that Jeb Bush was playing this card. “Maybe Donald negotiated a deal with his buddy Hillary Clinton,” Bush had tweeted. “Continuing this path will put her in the White House.”

“Is Donald Trump Running a False Flag Campaign to Help Hillary Clinton?” asked Gawker last summer. “The Secret Genius of Donald Trump, the Democrat?” was a headline in HuffPo.

“Is Donald Trump a Democratic Plant?” asked the Washington Times

The other day I saw some Facebook friends kicking the idea around that Trump is a Democrat posing as a Republican. I wondered if they knew themselves what they were getting at. It’s the height of fashion to find new and creative ways of ridiculing Trump and the voters who love him, and nailing him as a hypocrite and them as too dumb to see this is as good as any, I guess. But is an element of wishful thinking—and even concession—creeping into the japery? As in, if Trump’s actually a moderate pragmatist then what are we so worried about? Joke’s on them, not us.

Because Trump has campaigned as a guy who’s so damned shrewd and damned tough that he can handle anything, he’s gotten to where he is in the polls on style points. Liberals rail at him because he offers nothing that even approximates a coherent program; but because he doesn’t he can make the proverbial “pivot left” after he’s nominated without mussing his hair. “Hell, yes, there’s too much money in politics,” he’ll tell progressives. “Hell, yes, I don’t like the Koch brothers either,” he’ll say. (Actually, he’s been saying that since they turned their backs on his campaign.) Promises that once sounded loathsome, such as that magnificent wall keeping Mexicans out, will now seem merely fanciful, and we’ll swear we’ve spotted a twinkle in Trump’s eye when he repeats them.

He winked! We’ll say.

Or did we blink?