Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

We deal with a lot of tough things in life ― grief and various addictions, among other things ― in stages. The same is true when Donald Trump makes one of his patented inflammatory, fantastical or threatening statements.

After one of these remarks, the bilious billionaire, his aides and the Republican Party run through a series of syntactical and spin-doctoring steps in a Houdini-like effort to escape the submerged steamer trunk into which he had locked himself (and them).

At the end of the process, most fair-minded observers conclude that Trump never really escapes, and that he is running out of oxygen somewhere in the deep waters off the coast of American politics.

But not Trump! With powers of self-delusion far beyond those of mortal men and strategy from his own The Art of the Deal, he views his utterances as merely the opening bid in a never-ending negotiation over meaning. And the meaning is what he says it is, or isn’t, or may be, or what you want to hear, or don’t to hear.

And for The Donald, any publicity is good publicity, and any accusation ― no matter how outrageous or phony ― sticks.

You’d think that this method ― the destruction of the meaning of meaning ― could not work. Americans are sensible, clear-eyed people, right? Surely they see his rhetoric for what it is: a verbal three-card Monte game in hell.

So it won’t work, right? Right?