Donald Trump said Thursday that he will abide by the “traditions” of American elections and “accept a clear election result” if he loses on Nov. 8.

And to the untrained ear, that sounds as if he is relenting and saying he would concede the race if he loses — contrary to his noncommittal answer at Wednesday night's presidential debate.

But that's not what he said. Trump packed that pledge with so much wiggle room and so many caveats as to render it almost meaningless.

Let's break it down, piece by piece:

First, Trump trolled us all — very hard — by making it sound as if he was saying he would definitely accept the election results. And then he added, “If I win.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to make a major announcement today. I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States, that I will totally accept the results of this great and historical presidential election — if I win.

Trump was rather pleased with himself for this, and he certainly made some journalists do a double take. It had the desired effect.

And this is a pretty good indicator of how Trump feels about the gravity of this latest controversy. He is having fun with it and trolling us, even as his party pulls its hair out and the collective media makes this the story of the election right now — and writes about how it all could undermine democracy.

Later in the speech, Trump appeared to detail his position more fully.

America is a constitutional republic with a system of laws. These laws are triggered in the case of fraud or in the event of a recount where it’s needed. Of course I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result. Right? And always, I will follow and abide by all the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who have come before me. Always.

First, Trump says he would abide by “all the rules and traditions” of American elections, but he also pretty clearly believes those rules and traditions include the ability to contest a “questionable” election result.

He made a comparison: What if Al Gore had said three weeks before the 2000 election that he would accept the result? And he suggested that to make such a pledge would be tantamount to waiving his legal right to contest a questionable election result.

But the question for Trump has never been about whether he would completely waive that right; it's whether he would take his claims about massive voter fraud to their most extreme conclusion and suggest they caused him to lose even a lopsided race. He has said, after all, that there's no way he could lose Pennsylvania unless there's voter fraud.

Second, Trump says he will “accept a clear election result,” but he quickly adds the caveat that he could challenge a “questionable” one. The line between a “clear” result and a “questionable” one is a line that is only known to Donald Trump — and possibly, not even clear to him. Again: this is a candidate who has alleged large-scale voter fraud that would make it impossible for him to lose a blue-leaning swing state.

In other words, there's plenty of reason to believe that Trump thinks even a lopsided popular and electoral college loss wouldn't be a “clear” result. He has made it abundantly clear that he thinks the conspiracy against him is vast and that his loss could very well be due to a “rigged” election.

Given that backdrop, Trump's pledge Thursday means basically nothing. And the question of whether Donald Trump can ever achieve electoral clarity has just become one of 2016's central questions.