Over the past few days, the US political world has watched as a billionaire business mogul has grabbed headlines, diverted attention from the presidential candidates, and signaled that he is open to jumping into the game of presidential politics.
And it's not Donald Trump.
Mark Cuban — the billionaire investor, star of ABC's "Shark Tank," and owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks — has had quite a 10-day stretch in the political sphere.
Cuban was asked about the state of the presidential race occasionally in prior months, even telling Business Insider via his Cyber Dust social-media app last summer that he would "consider" serving as Trump's running mate.
But his foray into presidential politics has reached new heights since a Washington Post story earlier this month detailed how GOP operatives had tested his interest in running as a third-party candidate.
Cuban was dismissive, telling CNN's Erin Burnett in one of many interviews last week that there wasn't enough time to mount a serious run. He said it "was just an email through one of my associates and it was ... a quick response of no."
The story, however, did not end there. And Cuban has helped stoke the furious speculation by being seemingly ever-present.
Cuban landed a coveted spot on NBC's "Meet the Press" and doused fuel on his personal political fire. He said he would entertain the idea of serving as Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton's vice president (while maintaining that Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, could still make an agreeable offer for the role).
"Absolutely," he said when asked about the proposition. "But the key would be that she'd have to go more to center."
"I like the fact that Clinton has thought-out proposals," he continued. "That's a good thing because at least we get to see exactly where she stands."
Clinton herself seemed more than open to the idea in an appearance on the same program.
"I think we should look widely and broadly," she told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd of the search for a running mate. "It's not just people in elective office. It is successful businesspeople. I am very interested in that. And I appreciate his openness to it."
On Monday, Cuban told The Daily Beast that Clinton's campaign had reached out for a meeting after the virtual exchange via "Meet the Press."
He was careful not to "overstate any intent" or insinuate that the meeting would be about any vice-presidential vetting.
"It could end up being nothing," Cuban said.
Still, he said he would "of course" accept the meeting with Clinton, as he would with Trump, to try to push the discussion on issues.
"I think I can push at least a tiny bit more discussion around the issues," he said. "More depth, less dogma. I'm not suggesting I'm going to have some earth-shattering impact, but there is no one acting as a stalking horse for solutions. Maybe I can create some discussion that helps the process."
So, what's Cuban up to?
"He's positioning himself so he can have a voice not only in this election, but in election cycles to come," GOP strategist Evan Siegfried told Business Insider. "And the way he's been positioning himself is as sort of this rational, calm, voice of reason, saying he has grave concerns for Trump right now and he doesn't like Hillary but right now he'd probably be voting for Hillary."
But multiple strategists from both sides of the political aisle who spoke with Business Insider didn't seem to take too seriously the idea of a future White House run by the billionaire.
"The Mark Cuban boomlet is just absurd," a Democratic strategist who worked on Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign said. "It's a product of the news cycle. The fact that someone who clearly is not going to be vice president, is not going to mount an independent bid, gets a prime slot of 'Meet the Press' to wear a pastel polo to opine on the state of politics is absurd."
"And I think that this is just another interesting story in an absurd cycle," the strategist added.
The strategist said Clinton's apparent interest in Cuban was unsurprising because she couldn't start treating some hypotheticals differently from others. Brush off the thought of a Cuban vice presidency too swiftly, and the answer would be used to gauge potential interest in other candidates brought before her by reporters.
The strategist added that Cuban's independent streak had led him to have "tendencies" that align him with Trump.
"He's kind of all over the place," the person said. "The appeal of having two blowhard businessmen in the race is the only reason why people are still talking about this."
But while the Democratic strategist found Cuban to be out of touch with the party, Matt Mackowiak, the GOP strategist who is president of the Potomac Strategy Group, felt that Cuban was a "pretty run-of-the-mill Democrat." He said he couldn't imagine why some Republican operatives were intrigued by pushing the brash billionaire on a third-party ticket.
"At least he works in the private sector and knows the impact of taxes and regulation and the impact of big government, but I'm having trouble seeing what's appealing about him," Mackowiak told Business Insider. "He's obviously a very blunt guy. He's a risk-taker. He's a very smart guy. You know he'd be a very different kind of candidate."
Sounds vaguely familiar.
"He'd sort of be a Trump-like candidate on the Democratic side, but I have trouble seeing what outcome is Republican," he said. "I have much less enthusiasm about him than some people might."
'There are so many variables'
Cuban has done little to quell speculation about his intentions. He has repeatedly acknowledged that the thought of a future run is much more prevalent in his mind after witnessing the success of another businessman with no prior political career.
Last week he openly mused to Business Insider through the Cyber Dust app that there was one scenario in which he would certainly jump into a presidential race.
"If Kanye is a party nominee, I'll run against him," Cuban said, alluding to hip-hop artist Kanye West's speech at last summer's MTV Video Music Awards in which he said he would run for president in 2020.
Cuban said during his "Meet the Press" appearance that it was "too early to tell," a response with all the classic markings of a nonanswer that leaves plenty of doors open.
Cuban added that developments with the economy over the next four years would play a large role in his decision making.
"And so, we'd have to see what happened," he said. "We'd have to see, you know, if Congress still does nothing or they've managed to take steps and really have an impact. There are so many variables that I don't have the answers to. I really couldn't tell you."
'A good citizen'
As unenthusiastic as he is about the idea of a Cuban candidacy, Mackowiak, who acknowledges that he isn't the biggest fan of Trump, said the 2016 cycle did create the question of whether another Trump-type candidacy would thrive in future cycles.
"I just think Trump is a once-in-a-generation situation," he said. "To have the global brand he did. The global name identification he did, the level of wealth that he does, the willingness to run, he has a unique mix of attributes and strengths that he brought to this that were perfectly kind at this point in American politics."
I don't know if that moment will exist in four years, and I don't know that anyone else possesses the same strengths. Cuban is the kind of person who would be like Trump in the sense that he possesses a lot of the same characteristics. But does he understand how to do things that Trump does? No. I think he probably has a little bit better understanding of policy but ... in a way he's even less principled than Trump. Cuban to me is more unpredictable than Trump.
But Cuban might have already won in one way that doesn't involve his running for office or being on a presidential ticket.
"This is just Mark Cuban playing a smart chess game to position himself for anything in the future," Siegfried said. "And he doesn't even need to run just to have a voice on the issues. He could become someone who influences politics without having to hold elected office."
With all that in mind, Business Insider asked Cuban: What's the end game in all of this?
His answer: "To be a good citizen."
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