Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Behind the Trump Surge

For months, pundits have been adamant that Donald Trump's poll numbers were an aberration; that sooner or later he would come down to Earth as other, more mainstream Republicans made their case to the base. However, six months in and not only are Trump's numbers still holding, it is now looking very much like the nomination is his to lose. Only Ted Cruz appears to be a credible threat to him.

So why is Donald Trump so popular among the Republican base? How is it that someone so myopic, insular, xenophobic and misogynistic has such a commanding lead in what was supposed to be a wide field? In my opinion it comes down to four factors.

One, the electorate has had it up to here with Washington. The prevailing sentiment is that the political system is broken and the establishment leaders are useless and corrupt. This didn't just happen overnight; it took decades for us to get here and, contrary to many, the contempt isn't just coming from the Right. The Left's love affair with Bernie Sanders underscores progressives distrust with their own party. Some of the comments on social media regarding Hillary Clinton mirror almost to a T what many conservatives are saying about Jeb Bush.

Two, the Great Recession of 2008 created a groundswell of unrest within the country as millions of people were hit hard, while the culprits who caused the crisis got away with golden parachutes. In my opinion, it was a tragic mistake for Democrats and the Obama Administration to turn a deaf ear to the chorus of disenfranchised voters; voters who later found solace in, of all things, the Republican Party. While the GOP never fully understood this movement, it nonetheless coopted it and rode it all the way to a 2010 midterm wave victory. The Tea Party, as it became known, is now the most dominant political movement in the country and thoroughly dominates the Republican Party.

Three, the country is at a crossroads. As society becomes more and more diverse and pluralistic, some people feel threatened. The world as they know it is rapidly coming to an end and that has lead to a great deal of resentment among them. While the election of Barack Obama was an historic event to many, to them it was a nightmare come true. The row over immigration reform has little to do with Mexicans breaking the law; rather it stems from the perceived treat a growing Hispanic community poses to a predominantly white country. Trumps campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is code for turning back the clock and restoring the hegemony his supporters crave most.

Four, let's face it, like him or despise him, Donald Trump is a master manipulator who has tapped into a vein like a skilled surgeon; a filthy-rich skilled surgeon. As Stephen Colbert said in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation, "I have a respect for Trump for knowing who the real audience is, that if you really want to win you got to get the people. There's a populism to Trump that I find very appealing. And it's only this: that the party elders would like him to go away but the people have decided that he is not going to." No one who has followed his career should be remotely surprised at the success he is having. He is putting on a clinic. Win or lose the general election, he has forever changed the rules for how future campaigns will be run.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure anyone can stop this freight train that Donald Trump is riding. It isn't just dyed in the wool conservatives who are infatuated with him. His appeal cuts across several demographics. While Hillary Clinton would have the advantage in a head to head match up against him, it wouldn't be a huge advantage. In football parlance, she'd be a three point favorite, nothing more.  Ask any football oddsmaker and they'll tell you, three points is nothing.

If progressives carry out their threat and stay home rather than vote for Hillary, Donald Trump could well be sitting in the Oval Office come 2017.

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