By far the biggest story of the summer is Donald Trump’s surging candidacy for the U.S. presidency. It’s obvious why. Hate him or love him, Donald Trump knows how to captivate the public’s attention. He seems immune from being hurt; I want to examine why. What is it about Donald Trump that allows him to survive any occurrence that no conventional political candidate could? And, not only that, but to use these instances to further galvanize his base of supporters, while growing it?
This summer, we have seen example after example of this. People were horrified when he questioned Sen. John McCain’s hero status, saying the McCain is only considered a war hero “because he was captured.” Trump followed up that statement by saying that he likes “people that weren’t captured.” There was an outcry, but Trump refused to apologize. Instead, he turned the discussion to the country’s need of Veteran Affairs reformation.
Feminists were dismayed when Trump made a comment — that is repulsive — about FOX News host Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle. And yet, his poll numbers after the comment, as well as the recent GOP debate, have given him a vast lead. When he said that immigrant Mexicans are rapists — his first controversial comment of this run — his poll numbers jumped. Again, rather than apologize, he used his comments as a jumping-off point to discuss illegal immigration, an issue which the donor class has begged Republican Party leaders to temper their statements, so as not to further alienate the Hispanic community.
The Tea Party was never particularly organized. Its real obstacle, which limited the amount of influence it could wield, was its lack of a leader. Donald Trump has become its de facto leader running not a campaign but, as he says, a movement. That movement is the Tea Party reincarnated. You can question Trump’s business dealings, some of his companies’ bankruptcies and many other things, but no one can deny that he is brilliant at marketing. There is nobody who understands how to manipulate the media better than Donald Trump does. He understands how to garner earned media better than anyone. Though he has many detractors, many people adore him. What is it people like about Donald Trump?
They appreciate his boldness and what they perceive as strength. His being so adamant about refusing to apologize has only gained his campaign support and it will continue to do so. What his detractors don’t recognize is that, for every gaffe they think he has committed which they view as an opportunity to destroy his candidacy, Trump similarly uses that “gaffe” to strengthen his run. It is precisely their criticism of him that emboldens him and his brand. Every time we have seen this happen over the course of the last month or so, Trump’s support base has only increased after seeing his resolve. Supporters find that attractive. It’s the fact that he refuses to apologize that they love. It’s the fact that he’s the anti-politico. I think Trump’s rising popularity, however, just points to a large and unfortunately overlooked issue: The Republican Party is in trouble and it is not because of Donald Trump. Trump has simply given voice to a large portion of the party who feels that the party leadership has failed them. Trump appears as a beacon to those conservatives who feel that the Republicans in Washington have not followed through on their commitments — specifically when it comes to defunding Obamacare and dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. Conservative voters find many of today’s Republican politicians tepid. These days there is an internal battle in the Republican Party. While many Republican politicians are trying to walk the middle, conservative voters and pundits are calling for stridence. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and conservative media are giving Trump an inordinate amount of airtime and support on their programs, much as they did for the Tea Party years ago. Their power cannot be underestimated. Those who do underestimate them do so at their own peril.
There have been a rising number of incidents in the past few years in which conservatives within the GOP have expressed their disappointment with the party’s tepidity. On the issue of Obamacare, many of Ted Cruz’s fellow Republicans excoriated him when he took a stand to try to defund Obamacare. And yet, conservative media supported Cruz. Cruz’s peers would not use their constitutional authority and the power of the purse to defund Obamacare. On the issue of immigration, when the base was calling for stricter policies, many Republicans supported amnesty for illegal immigrants under the guise of a pathway to citizenship.
In 2010, Republicans won the House, but conservatives felt they didn’t get what they wanted. Again, in 2014, Republicans took the Senate, but conservatives felt nothing substantial was accomplished.
There has long existed this fissure in the party among Republican moderates, the donor class and Northeastern Republicans, who tend to be more conservative on fiscal and economic issues yet more liberal on social issues, and who are more concerned about finding a candidate who is “elect-able”; and the “base” that is as conservative as it comes and consists of people who refuse to compromise their own values system in order to nominate a muted conservative candidate.
Trump’s surge in the polls and continued presence on the stage highlights that current fission in the Republic Party. His supporters are sick and tired of what they see as Republicans with no backbone. But moreover, Trump’s supporters find him authentic; he will not adapt his personality now that he’s a candidate for the presidency. In this race, Trump’s history of evolving on issues is irrelevant. It is his personality that will win him votes and continues to win him support.
Donald Trump is far from a conventional political candidate. After all, he’s a businessman. But what he is and has been all his life is a marketer. There is no gaffe that could bring Trump down. Trump is unique in that his candidacy has proven time and time again to defy the laws of political gravity. He has immunity and he knows it. Trump is in and he’s in to stay. I can guarantee you one thing: He’s not going anywhere.
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