Why is Donald Trump so popular?
It took a while but pundits, Republicans, Democrats, the American public and the world at large finally realized, some to their horror, that Trump is not a side show. He is the main event in the presidential election race and the consequences of that have alarm bells ringing.
Trump loves it. This is centre stage stuff and for a guy addicted to ego and opportunities to offend, this is an itch he can’t resist scratching.
His rhetoric is raw, in-your-face, offensive. Words tumble from his mouth without care of the consequences. He’s absent on almost all facts but long on inflammatory one-liners. His messages are 4th grade simple. If you don’t like illegal Mexican immigrants, build a wall. If you’re suspicious of Muslims, track them with a database or block them from entering the United States.
In a Bloomberg Politics Poll shortly after Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., almost two thirds of Republican voters favoured his call while more than one third said it would make them more likely to vote for him. While 17 per cent of Democrat voters also agreed, 75 per cent were opposed.
In a June 2014 Pew Research Center poll gauging how Americans feel about religious groups, evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Jews were viewed the most warmly while the participants’ view of atheists and Muslims was the coldest.
Trump has two things going for him when he’s on message to the working class crowds – charisma and energy. They love a guy who’s brassy enough to call things as they are. Lack of attention to accurate detail doesn’t seem to matter. The more brash and sweeping he is, the better they like it. And Trump’s scorn of political correctness – or even common basic social politeness – makes him their good-on-you buddy, their anti-establishment presidential contender who’s going to take the White House and Make America Great Again.
But Trump is hardly anti-establishment or anti-elite. This twice-divorced, four times bankrupt, billionaire with a Forbes-estimated net worth of $4.5 billion and homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach doesn’t relate to sweeping factory floors or clocking in at a fast food joint. But his bad-mouth attitude relates to those who do.
Is Trump’s success all about Trump or about a sign of the times in the U.S. where voters are becoming increasingly frustrated with nothing getting done in Washington? From the surge (and collapse) of the Tea Party in 2010 there has been a trending arc of impatience among voters and Trump may be their voice.
Trump is more often wrong than right in his sweeping statements but to many he sounds right. He sounds confident. He’s saying the things people say in their living rooms and which other political contenders wouldn’t dare say at the risk of their campaign tanking. Yet he soars with every gaff, off-colour remark or harsh criticism of anyone, the Pope included.
Maybe he sees this whole election campaign as another TV reality show, something he knows implicitly. Brashness, standing out in a crowd, and pushing the envelope are simply his means to an end.
But he’s not stupid. He’s an outlier. He knows he’s grabbing media attention at the expense of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and John Kasich. But he could well be damaging the Republican brand.
Trump, though, has a fix on the anger of Republican primary voters who think the elites have over-promised and under-delivered. There’s wiggle room in his psyche to play into their mistrust. This isn’t about lofty goals. It’s about ultimate power.
The danger is that the voters are embracing the figurehead yelling the loudest not the smartest.