Last year we started the summer silly season in American politics with the announcement by Donald J. Trump that he was running for president. This coincided with John Stewart leaving the daily, a bitter timing that I am sure was keenly felt, but here it is January 2016 and we are no longer laughing.
Trump has dominated the polls, debates, news, and conversation with his Presidential bit.
A lot of opinion cycles and time has been spent explaining the media mogul’s mastery of the political process. The ideas range from the mundane (it’s all just name recognition) to the far-fetched (He’s a plant by Hillary Clinton to make the Republican Party look bad.) These explanations in my opinion are all avoidance tactics, dodging the central fact that Trump has a commanding control of the primary nomination because of what he advocates not in spite of it.
Let’s take the Name Recognition argument first.
In m opinion name recognition in politics is like an aircraft carrier’s catapult; it will get you off the deck but it will not make you fly. Typically a name recognition candidate will crash shortly after announcing when the reality if the candidate collides with the idealized image of the candidate that existed the hazy ill-defined future before the announcement. This has not happened with Trump. As people see more and more of him, his support remains firm. This also discredits the ‘free media’ explanation, because again while he is getting tons of free exposure, nothing he says or does during that exposure undercuts his support. His message is not turning people off.
Jeb! Has put forth, at least once, the hypothesis that Trump is an enemy mole out to make the Republican Party look bad. The trouble with Jeb!’s argument is that Trump isn’t polling in the * range, but rather that he’s leading the national polls. If that support looks reflects badly on the party is is because 20-30 percent of the party enthusiastically support the positions and statement from Trump.
Another argument I have heard is that the exact things Trump says are unimportant, what really matters and why he is gaining such support is that he is paying attention to the issue that really matters to the base – immigration.
The trouble with that argument is that there has been plenty of pols talking tough on immigration long before Trump stood and announced that Mexico was sending criminals and rapists – and he assumed ‘a few’ good people – across our southern border. The Border Wall is a device/promise that has been around for a few elections. Talking tough is nothing new, Trump, despite his insistence, did not bring up an issue no one was talking about.
A corollary to the immigration issue argument is that Trump benefited from the tragic murder of a woman by a illegal immigrant. Correlation does not equal causation, because Trump rose in the polls after that incident does not mean it was because of that incident. Even if he did gain support because of it, that doesn’t explain how he maintained that support. (And there is simply NO good evidence that immigrant, legal, illegal, documented or undocumented are more criminally violent than the general population. Grabbing that case to prove your point is like pointing to a mass murderer’s use of an assault rifle to prove the need for their ban when so terribly few are ever used violently.)
The truth of the matter is that Trump has spewed from day one hateful, bigoted, xenophobic, and racist statements. These statement do not cost him support and it is increasingly evident that a significant portion of the conservative base endorse these ideas.
That is NOT to say that all, or even most, conservatives are racist, xenophobic bigots. The total non-Trump number far outnumber the Trump numbers . I do think that a lot of the ‘explanations’ that main on the right search for to dismiss Trump’s support is an attempt to ignore that fact that racism is selling in their party. That is a problem that will not go away with Trump eventual collapse – if he does collapse. It is a part of the Republican civil war and only time will tell us which faction wins in the end.