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“I could probably do another show when I don’t enjoy 'The Apprentice' anymore,” says the 66-year-old Mr. Trump, mulling his TV future. “I have been asked by virtually every network on television to do a show for them. But there’s something to sticking with what you have: This is a good formula. It works.”

Years before “The Apprentice,”Mr. Trump hit on a winning formula for himself: Supercharge his business success with relentless self-promotion, putting a human face — his! — on the capitalist system, and embedding his persona in a feedback loop of performance and fame.

Since then, he has ruled as America’s larger-than-life tycoon and its patron saint of material success. Which raises the question: Does he play a souped-up version of himself for his audience as Donald Trump, a character bigger and broader than its real-life inspiration?

He laughs, flashing something like a you-got-me smile.

“Perhaps,” he replies. “Not consciously. But perhaps I do. Perhaps I do.”

It began as early as 1987, when his first book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” became a huge best-seller.

And even without a regular showcase, he was no stranger to TV. For instance, in the span of just 10 days in May 1997, Mr. Trump not only was seen on his Miss Universe Pageant telecast on CBS, but also made sitcom cameo appearances as himself on NBC’s “Suddenly Susan” and ABC’s “Drew Carey Show.”

Meanwhile, as a frequent talk-show guest then (as now), he publicized his projects and pushed his brand.

“I’ll be on that show for 20 or 30 or 60 minutes, and it costs me nothing,” he notes. “When you have an opportunity for promotion, take it! It’s free.”

No one has ever accused Mr. Trump of hiding his light under a bushel. But his promotional drive (or naked craving for attention) has taken him to extremes that conventional wisdom warns against: saying and doing things that might hurt your bottom line.

Item: Mr. Trump’s noisy, even race-baiting challenge to President  Obama to prove his American citizenship. This crusade has earned Mr. Trump the title from one editorialist as “birther blowhard.”

For an industrialist and entertainer, where’s the profit in voicing political views that could tick off a segment of your market or your audience?

“It’s a great question, and a hard question to answer, because you happen to be right,” Mr. Trump begins. “The fact is, some people love me, and some people the-opposite-of-love me, because of what I do and because of what I say. But I’m a very truthful person. By speaking out, it’s probably not a good thing for me personally, but I feel I have an obligation to do it.”

But isn’t he being divisive with some of his pronouncements?

“I think ‘divisive’ would be a fair word in some cases, not in all cases,” he replies. “But I think ‘truthful’ is another word.”

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