For keen observers of the 2016 US presidential elections, Donald Trump needs no introduction. He has defiled, rewritten, even, redirected the course of campaigns conventions. For him, there are no rules sacred enough not to be disobeyed. To Donald, being politically correct is in fact not a virtue. Hate him and his supporters will come after you. Criticise him, they tell you that is his source of strength. Many political commentators had predicted he would never enter the race in the first instance. Another group of “analysts” maintained that his rise in the polls was an anomaly. The political establishment assumed he would be a passing fad, and that Republican voters would ultimately move on to more “serious” candidates. This never happened. So what is he doing right or wrong?
According to Gallup polls, only 28 percent of Americans identify as Republicans. 30 percent label themselves as Democrats, and 39 percent say they are independents. Since early August, Trump has won between 21 and 31 percent support among Republicans in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, placing him consistently in the lead (save for a brief period when Ben Carson edged ahead). The arithmetic is simple: 30 percent (in the polls) of 28 percent of Americans (who are Republicans) is 8.4 percent of the total. Is that a lot or a little? That depends on your own perspective and view of America. In the past two years, the number of Republicans has ranged between 20 and 33 percent.
While on the surface the polls results look good for Trumpees, the results from the recently-concluded Iowa caucuses means he and his supporters need a serious reality check. Ted Cruz, winner of the GOP caucuses, bested Donald Trump, raising questions about the billionaire’s reliance on his celebrity instead of traditional political organisation. The fact that the real estate mogul lost where and when it mattered most should give his strategists some sleepless nights.
Donald Trump has upended all known political norms. As voters took their decisions in the Iowa caucuses on Monday night, the only safe conclusion was that the old rules did not apply anymore. One might ask why so many people are surprised by the result which produced the unthinkable, with Senator Ted Cruz beating Trump to the second position. He was always a strong contender, yapping at Trump’s heels, while Marco Rubio had been rising slowly in the polls for some time. History, some say, was also on Cruz’s side. A lot of Iowans traditionally make up their minds at the last minute; the state normally favours religious conservatives; and Cruz had an amazing ground operation where Trump relied too much on national exposure, rather than grassroots effort.
Trump is good only to his hard-core Republican supporters. He is deluded by the polls. The media enjoys him as he gives them fodder for their platforms. As far as I am concerned, Trump is only engaging in a publicity stunt for the sake of his business empire. He has not spent much on political ads, he gives CNN daily news to report and is in turn given free publicity.
Another source of worry to Trump strategists, apart from his seeming tactless public communications, is his lack of deep understanding of issues that shapes US elections. Few of his supporters can point out his views on foreign policy, national security, and the economy.
I say this because Mr. Trump has no visible campaign organisation. He is his own campaign manager (apologies to Corey Lewandowski) just as he speaks more than his spokesperson, Katrina Pierson. Apart from committing serious political campaign blunders, he intends to rewrite the “campaign rules” that have become the source of political wisdom to major contenders.
Unlike Trump, Cruz’s well established get-out-the-vote effort helped overcome the enthusiasm of large crowds that have shown up for Trump’s rallies. Trump skipped the last Republican debate before the caucuses because of a dispute with host FOX News.
Coming from a strong real estate background, Trump is no stranger to negotiation. He is reported to have threatened to run as an independent should he fail to clinch the GOP nomination. This looks like a good negotiator’s tactic, since he is not likely to win anyway.
For close observers, Trump, is a self-promoting reality show or a showbiz celebrity competitor. No one except his most fanatical supporters or “Trumpees” think he stands any chance as far as the election is concerned. The best he can do is the recent poll (monitored by Washington Post), which puts him in “commanding lead” for the GOP’s ticket.
If Trump’s strategists are relying on results of the polls, they must either have been sleeping too much or are just engaging in self-delusion. The US presidential election is almost like a case of “lose the poll and win the election”. If the experience of John Dewey and Harry Truman (1948) or the 1936 Literary Digest disaster seems remote (except for those born recently), perhaps few remember the cases of Al Gore and George Bush (2000) or those pollsters that made Mitt Romney think he was close to defeating President Obama in 2012. Polls are won by showbiz artists, models, or celebrities; elections are won by politicians. Poll winners nearly always do one thing at best: to always become the second best.
The fact that Trump is a showbiz artist (hosting the reality show, The Apprentice) shows that he knows how to attract unpaid for media attention. His controversial statements on women, Mexicans, Blacks and other soft sections of the American society are, at best, deliberate.
Reputable institutions have had cause to distance themselves from Trump. His party, his fellow contenders, and the NBC, etc. had to all distance themselves from him due to his ranting, sadism and tactless utterances which they consider unbefitting of a presidential hopeful.
Trump reminds one of Joseph Raymond “Joe” McCarthy. He served as a Republican U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in which Cold War tensions fuelled fears of widespread Communist subversion. He was noted for making claims that there were large numbers of Communists and Soviet spies and sympathisers inside the United States federal government and elsewhere. Ultimately, his tactics and inability to substantiate his claims led him to be censured by the United States Senate.
The Senate hearings were not the only thing that eroded McCarthy’s credibility. Earlier in 1950, the journalist Edward R. Murrow had aired a documentary that showed how McCarthy’s charges were groundless and how he had used bullying techniques to harass individuals. By June of that year, the senator’s Gallup Poll ratings fell from 50 percent to 34 percent. Can this be what is happening to Trump today?
Trump is huge, but so far only within the small (and angry) world of GOP voters. He’s winning in the polls and, thus, he warrants the spoils: headlines, tweets, and notice. And there is no reason to scoff at the possibility that he may bag the nomination. But there’s no cause yet to formulate wide-ranging conclusions about the nation based on his interim success, and there’s no reason for un-bigoted Americans to start to panic. Trump is a virus contained, for the moment, within the GOP bloodstream.
Politically speaking, Trump will be coming up against not only the most conservative among the Republican supporters, but also the single mothers, welfare recipients, Hispanics and other “non-status” American citizens, in addition to supporters of “marriage rights”. The GOP and Trump will hope to make up for their “loss” in these areas by hoping to appeal to the baser instincts of the “red staters” for their votes to have any realistic hopes of producing the next White House occupant. Can we then have a Trump presidency?
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