Let us say, and why not, that Donald Trump is not merely a blithering madman. In fact, let us say, just for a moment, a thought experiment, if you will, that the real reason that Trump is campaigning for president the way he has isn't merely ego and bluster and neediness. Let us entertain the notion that what's really going on is that Trump has already set in motion the rigging of the 2016 presidential election. If we do that, then everything he is currently saying and doing makes perverse sense. The big con, then, isn't Trump running for president in order to do something else that's more lucrative (like start a TV network). No, the grift is that he's running as if he's going to win because he knows he's going to win.
The most obvious strategy here is preemptively accusing Democrats and the campaign of Hillary Clinton of election fraud to cover up his own imminent fraud. Most importantly, Trump did this in Pennsylvania, where he said, "The only way we can lose, in my opinion — I really mean this, Pennsylvania is if cheating goes on...She can’t beat what’s happening here. The only way they can beat it in my opinion, and I mean this 100 percent, if in certain sections of the state they cheat." Clinton right now is leading Trump in the polls in Pennsylvania, which would make a thoughtful man at least pause before outright alleging "cheating."
According to Verified Voting, Pennsylvania would be one of the easiest states to hack the vote because the vast majority of its counties currently have "direct recording electronic voting machines" without "voter verified paper audit trail printers." So electronic voting occurs without a paper trail in "certain sections of the state." Rhetorically, Trump is setting up his "win" by making sure it seems inevitable. Yes, you could say he's just sour grape-ing it in advance and delegitimizing a Clinton victory. Or he could be making sure that when he wins despite the polls, he can say that he was right all along and any allegations of fraud against him are defying something that he had predicted months before the election.
Is this a stretch? Of course it is. But we're in such a bizarro election landscape right now, where a completely inexperienced candidate refuses to release his taxes and lies constantly, demonstrably, and confidently, all while speaking incoherently and irrationally, and 35-45% of Americans still support him, that nothing is off the table.
Take, for instance, Trump's refusal to buy any ad time, despite the fact that his campaign has raked in a large amount of donations. Obviously, it would cost a great deal of money to buy the silence and skills of anyone involved in rigging the election. And why, for instance, would Trump be campaigning in states that he simply has no chance of winning, like Oregon and Connecticut? He's got to make it seem as if his appearances there turned the tide in his favor when the mailed-in votes of Oregon are changed and the paper ballots in Connecticut are messed with. Trump has derided get-out-the-vote efforts and has minimal staff. Again, in the context of a fixed election, it actually makes sense.
One other piece of the puzzle is, of course, Trump's campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and his ties to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin. While Manafort was on his payroll, Yanukovych was what one writer called "a serial election fraudster," stealing presidential and parliamentary elections over the years. So perhaps Manafort offers a Russian connection to how one rigs an election.
Finally, there is Trump himself, who has often talked about how he has profited from seeming disasters, be it bankruptcies of his businesses or the housing bubble burst. He has no compunction about cheating contractors out of their fees. He will, in fact, do anything to come out on top in whatever situation he's in. It's possible that he could save face and say that a loss in the election made him richer than ever (however rich he might be). But is that really a victory in this scenario?
Again, this is just a thought experiment. I'm being sarcastic, but not that sarcastic. Trump acts like a man who knows he's gonna win. So either he does know it because he's making it happen or he's so epically delusional, a mad emperor awaiting the restoration of his fake empire, that we're just watching the pathetic spectacle of someone living in a hallucination.