“Maybe Mitt Romney won’t blow dismissive air kisses when we hang out!” (CBS News)

It’s official.

There’s the Ames Straw Poll. There’s the breakfasts and caucuses and Fox News appearances.

And there’s The Donald.

Somehow, Donald Trump has managed to become a stop on the campaign trail.

Mitt Romney is meeting with him today. Rick Perry met with him earlier this month (they dined at Jean Georges, which you can tell is a big deal because it has two French names instead of just one), and Sarah Palin shared a meal with him in May (they dined at some sort of pizza joint called Famiglia’s, which, as they say, “ain’t Jean Georges.”) Michele Bachmann paid a visit to the Trump Tower back in July.

He’s a fixture.

But why?

Time was when, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a human being, let alone a presidential candidate, you remained at least 500 feet away from Donald Trump at all times. There is something in his aura that makes anyone next to him in a picture look like a fired Celebrity Apprentice. He’s the Borat of political figures. If you’ve ever wondered how far you could push a joke, consider the life of Donald Trump.

Whoever said that no man is an island never met The Donald. He’s an island, all right. The trouble is that he thinks he’s a continent. He’s the Antarctica of public figures. “We are pretty sure there’s nothing under there,” the public says. Donald doesn’t mind. He is the founder and CEO of something called Trump Organization, which I know is somehow implicated in real estate. Donald, though, like Snooki and the other one-name beasts of the public scene, is mostly notorious for being The Donald — master of Apprentices, known for Being rather than for Doing. It’s the new American dream. And he seems to speak to us. Remember when he almost ran for president? Remember when people actually said they’d vote for him?

Maybe this meeting is just superstition. Some people touch a rabbit’s foot for luck. Why limit yourself? There is an entire rabbit on Donald’s head, probably still semi-conscious.

Or perhaps the candidates fall at his feet and plead with him not to run? “You will split the stupid vote,” Palin explained. “Any candidate who hopes to get anywhere this cycle will need the stupid vote.”

But maybe the Trump pilgrimage will have its benefits. He’s been described as the “validator” for the field, which to me implies that guy who stamps your ticket as you leave the movie theater so you can get cheaper parking. I hope that’s about as much as it means in actual life.

But I worry that it doesn’t. What somewhat unnerves me about this is that I have the eerie sense that “Endorsed by Donald Trump” will be appearing under the name of one of these candidates — and that it might matter. What unnerves me most is that “Endorsed by Donald Trump” is also something it says on noise-making pens that say “You’re Fired (TM)” when you press the cap. But people weren’t actually going to vote for the pen. Or were they?

Do real people actually believe that Trump’s carnival barker flair and, uh, aggressive in-your-face style are going to help them with the electorate? Are they actually courting his endorsement?

Looks like it.

Or maybe they just want the vote of whatever’s sitting on his head.