Ali Goldstein/NBC
Benjamin Svetkey
April 19, 2011 AT 10:05 PM EDT

Donald Trump will apparently be making a big political announcement on the May 22 season finale of Celebrity Apprentice. No, he won’t be saying whether or not he’ll be running for president, but instead he’ll supposedly be revealing the future date upon which he actually will announce whether he’s running for president. But let’s save everyone some time and get it over with now: He won’t be. He has never seriously considered a run for the White House. It was all a gigantic ratings stunt, a negotiating ploy to get NBC to cut a bigger paycheck when the time comes to sign up for another season of his suddenly popular again TV show. At least, that’s the only theory that makes any sense to us — and we’re not alone.

“We at the network have no idea whether Trump is serious about [running for president] or not,” one NBC exec tells EW. “He won’t tell even us — and we haven’t pushed because we’ve just decided it is whatever it is. If he wants to spout off about things, we’re happy to let him. But our inclination is that he’s not serious about running for president. We think it’s a stunt.”

It sure looks like one. There’s certainly nothing in Trump’s past that would hint at the suddenly super-conservative views he’s been bloviating about lately. On the contrary, he’s recently made some dramatic (and politically advantageous) philosophic U-turns. Today, for instance, he’s 100 percent pro-life. But in his 2000 book The America We Deserve, he described himself as pro-choice (“I support a woman’s right to choose but I am uncomfortable with the procedures”). Today, he’s against gay rights. But just a decade ago, while considering a run for president as a Reform Party candidate, he told the gay issues magazine The Advocate that he supported “a very strong domestic-partnership law,” insisting that “sexual orientation would be meaningless” if he were President of the United States.

Still, as stunts go, turning himself into a right-wing Obama-was-born-in-Kenya Tea Party knucklehead seems to be succeeding beyond even Trump’s wildest dreams. Since he started popping up on cable-news shows to question President Obama’s birth certificate — and espouse such neo-colonial positions as invading Libya, but only if we get to keep all their oil — ratings for The Celebrity Apprentice have been up as much as 20 percent. The show this season is averaging about 8 million viewers an episode, almost double last season’s audience (although still down from 2007’s first season of Celebrity Apprentice, which drew about 9 million viewers). That does give Trump some leverage with NBC. “If you look at our three biggest shows,” the NBC exec says, “it’s Biggest Loser, America’s Got Talent, and Celebrity Apprentice. Celebrity Apprentice is one of the very few shows we have that is in the zeitgeist and gets those kinds of numbers. So, we certainly want him back.”

Of course, Trump’s stunt has succeeded spectacularly in another way, as well. According to the latest CNN opinion poll, he’s now tied with Fox News personality Mike Huckabee as Republican voters’ No. 1 choice for presidential candidate in 2012. As incredible as it sounds, Trump actually has a shot at the Republican nomination.

You know, on second thought, maybe he will run after all.

Read more:

EW’s recaps of ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’

Donald Trump on ‘Good Morning America’: I’ll release tax returns when Obama releases a birth certificate

President Trump. Could it really happen?

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