Donald Trump’s rise has been the subject of much analysis in recent weeks, and to the chagrin of many on either side of the aisle, his popularity shows no sign of diminishing in the wake of the first Republican primary debate.
He has not always been a Republican
Trump’s loyalty has come under fire even in these early stages of the primary season. It has not escaped the notice of the national media or his rivals that Trump was once a Democrat, and indeed donated large sums of money to Democratic candidates including the Clintons.
Trump’s explanation of this is that he was deeply involved in the political landscape of New York, a committed blue-state, and as a result his political allegiance was almost a foregone conclusion. Whether this defence will prevent further attacks on Trump is yet to be seen, and is of particular importance given his tumultuous impact on the Republican Party’s membership at present.
He damages the Republican debate on immigration
Trump isn’t a single issue figure, but you would be forgiven for thinking so. His vilifying of hispanics and the Mexican Government have incurred charges of racism, and he continues to flirt with the idea of erecting a gigantic wall across America to keep out Mexicans, as if they were an undead horde. While we’re on the topic of race, let us also remember the ‘birther debate’ surrounding President Obama, championed by Trump and based on zero hard evidence.
For conservatives this poses serious problems. Higher-ups in the Republican Party no doubt understand the need to win over hispanic voters if they are to have any chance at winning the next presidential election, given the changing demographics of the country, but Trump’s regressive rhetoric is currently drowning out the more progressive minded candidates like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.
He may hold the Republican Party hostage
During the recent Fox News debate, Trump refused to rule out a third party candidacy. Simply put, if Trump were to run as a third party candidate on his own fortune, the Democrats would have an open goal in 2016.
Trump would undercut the base of the Republican Party, but never himself stand a chance of seriously challenging the two major parties. By refusing to dispel the possibility of a third party run, Trump may believe he can hold the Republicans to ransom. ‘His way, or the high way’. Or Hillary’s, more realistically.
He is the quintessential anti-establishment candidate
Trump’s unabashed, anti-political correct, ‘say what you mean’ style of rhetoric is in some ways similar to the rise of the U.K. Independence Party’s Nigel Farage. Aggressively patriotic, fiercely nativist, Trump and Farage both epitomise a backlash to the governing class that has been smouldering for years.
However, while Farage argues that British politicians are misguided in their commitment to the European Union, Trump goes one further and argues that America’s leaders are “stupid.” He claims America is being beaten by global enemies simply because the policymakers and leaders in Washington D.C. lack the raw intelligence to solve the current problems of the world. He apparently has the solutions. Whether he will share these solutions with the rest of us is yet to be seen. In the mean time, I encourage you to read Reihan Salam’s article on this phenomenon.
He is not that smart, but he understands branding
It has been suggested that Trump is fully cognizant of his role, perfectly in tune with the demands of playing this boastful, bombastic, crass individual. Well, sort of. There is no doubt that Trump understands that his style of ‘tell it how it is’ vitriol connects with a disaffected stratum of American society, but his inability to form coherent arguments suggests he isn’t really up to scratch for the big issues.
Time and again, Trump finds ways to trip up over his own ‘logic’ during interviews, and some of his more cringe-inducing moments do nothing to broaden or strengthen his populist support.
The best way of thinking about Trump’s political strategy is probably one of branding. He understands his brand; for him, the policies, the issues, the election are all secondary. His brand is what made him a success in business, he believes it can do the same in politics.