At first, his words sounded silly. In an interview last week, Donald Trump likened himself to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” But he’s right. Both boast big followings.

But the correlation goes further than popularity. One and the other, the ex-president and the portrait, owe their fame to the same thing – stealing.

Mona who

First, consider the painting. In the early 20th century, no one had to line up to see “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre. The big draw at the time was Venus de Milo. Da Vinci’s painting went unheeded for a long time.

The portrait had been hanging in the Louvre for 107 years – since 1804 – without notice – until it was stolen in 1911.

Likely the only reason it was taken was because it was small enough to hide under the thieves’ coat.

“Mona Lisa” had such a low profile that no one even saw it was missing for 26 hours. And because it took more than two years to recover and media coverage of the search was ongoing, interest ratcheted up.

Newspapers worldwide headlining the search, not to mention the wanted posters hung on the walls of Paris, gave the painting its notoriety. Even a song was written about it crooned by Nat King Cole.

Then there was the hoopla that came with the recovery of the painting. That’s when people began mobbing the museum to see the picture. Reportedly, in the first two days after it was rehung, more than 100,000 people came to look.

Nowadays, some eight million people flock to see “Mona Lisa” each year. So, it was theft and the ensuing media explosion that made the painting popular.

Robber baron

Trump’s popularity follows a similar trajectory. He stole his way to his fame, and the media sensationalized it. Michael O’Hare, a professor of Public Policy at Berkeley, writing for the Washington Monthly, said: “What Trump mainly does for a living is to steal.”

You might say the stealing began in the mid-1970s with the building of Trump Tower.

That’s when he is said to have scammed undocumented Polish by paying them less than half of union wages.

He is also known for stiffing suppliers and contractors. And the stealing habit followed him after his bid for a second term failed. He hired fake electors to substitute to steal the election from Joe Biden.

More of Trump’s stealing occurs with donations to his Save America Leadership PAC.

Some $75 million in the first half of this year, purported to go to finance ongoing ballot review in Arizona and other states, went to defray his personal expenses.

When added up, you’d think Trump would be kicked off the stage by now. But Republican Congressman Ken Buck told CNN this week that the multiple investigations and civil lawsuits provide him “credibility.”

Translation? He gets the sympathy vote and also gets to say the Dems are out to get him.

Of course, the question that goes pleading here is, would the painting and the ex-president have their big following if they didn’t get a boost from the stealing?

I can’t speak for Trump, but I can for the painting. It’s north the adulation. The large mass of brown that forms Mona Lisa’s gown is like a thumb in the eye, blocking the view of a landscape in the distance that calls for attention.

And you feel like saying to Mona, “down in front.” The landscape in the background draws you in. The terrain is rugged and cloaked in a velvety mist you imagine feeling on your skin.

If you ask me, the background of “Mona Lisa” haunts way more than the portrait does, which makes it the most overrated painting in history.