One of the most surprising turn of public events within the United States over the course of the past several events has surely consisted of Donald Trump’s emergence as a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the presidential election that will occur this coming November. This sample politics essay will discuss Trump’s campaign in greater depth.
Overview of Presidential-candidate Donald Trump
Trump has, of course, made a name and earned a fortune for himself as a highly successful businessman. His most publicly visible role has perhaps been as the host of the reality television show The Apprentice, on which he has been known for uttering his signature line, “You’re fired.” Trump has never held elected office before, and his current run for the presidency of the United States marks his first foray into the arena of politics. Indeed, if Trump wins the presidency, he will be one of a few celebrities to reside in the White House.
However, this has not seemed to hurt Trump’s credibility in the least. He has proven an ability to win voters from different backgrounds. For one thing, Trump has thus far primarily prided himself on executive and managerial skill, which he surely has acquired over his long experience as a businessman; and for another, it is the fact that Trump is an outsider to politics in general that actually seems to appeal to many of the people who are in support of him becoming the next American president.
“Anyone who knows Trump well and has followed him through his decades of fame knows Donald Trump is never what you just see on the surface. A master manipulator, he has always played every angle . . . Having entered a new game that calls for seeking attention in a crowded room—modern day politics—Trump is proving that his skills are transferable” (paragraph 5).
In other words, Trump’s primary strategy in his presidential campaign has proven to be to simply bring the skills he has developed over the course of his highly successful business career—including winning the deal, playing the media, and engaging in psychological manipulation—to bear within the domain of politics. The fact that he is still, in fact, a frontrunner for the Republican nomination would seem to suggest that this strategy has more or less met with success. At any rate, it has met with far greater success than anyone would have imagined a mere half year ago.
Media attitude of the campaign
The general attitude of the media toward Trump’s campaign is captured by the bemused remark of a Republican National Committee member: “He’s not going away” (Campbell). The media consensus up until very recently was that Trump’s success was surely a short-term phenomenon that would naturally pass as the election grew nearer and the contest for the Republican nomination became more serious.
However, it has become quite clear by now that Trump is, in fact, a quite serious contender for the nomination, and that his support within the American public is surely more than just some passing fad. This has caused a gradual but significant re-evaluation of what Trump could mean for the United States and the sources of power underlying his unexpected but ongoing success.
Among other things, it is clear that the other Republican candidates are highly reluctant to openly antagonize Trump, even as they may find both his policy proposals and his general demeanor to be highly distasteful. Berman has provided a compelling reason regarding why this is so:
“Trump’s trump card, of course, is that he’ll run as a third-party candidate if the GOP [the Republican Party] treats him unfairly. And in that sense, he’s holding the party hostage. For now, he seems to control a bloc of voters the Republicans need to defeat Clinton” (paragraph 7).
The main idea here is that given the nature of the American electoral system, a third-party candidate could well end up hurting another candidate ideologically close to him and thus indirectly benefit the candidate who is further from him. For example, if 15 percent of Americans would vote for a Republican candidate if Trump were not running, but would vote for him instead if he ran third-party, then he would draw away 15 percent of the Republican vote, thereby essentially handing the victory to the Democrats. The Republicans would seem to be highly anxious to prevent such a turn of events from occurring.
Trump’s policy proposals
According to most commentators on the subject (including both Democrats and Republicans), most of Trump’s actual policy proposals fall somewhere between the ludicrous and the unconstitutional. There are his plans for illegal Mexican immigration dubbed “The Great Deportation.” He promises:
- The United States is really going to build a giant wall between itself and Mexico
- Mexico will somehow be compelled to pay for this endeavor
- The wall would address the problem of the international drug trade in an effective fashion
There is also his more recent, infamous call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, and potentially even have Muslims living within the nation register themselves in some way. Such a policy would probably violate a number of provisions of the Constitution itself, and its very recommendation has led to at least some people identifying Trump as having fascist inclinations (Ball).
On the other hand, however, it would also seem that the coherence or legitimacy of the policy proposals, at the national level, is not really what Trump’s entire campaign is about. Regarding Trump’s speeches, for example, Denby has suggested the following:
“His speeches have no beginning or end, no shape, no culmination, and release, and none is necessary. For the audience, his fervent incoherence makes him that much more present, for it is Trump alone who matters, the vividness of him standing there, in that moment, embodying what the audience fears and desires” (paragraph 3).
In other words, Trump’s specific policy recommendations pale in comparison to the general strength of the aura he exerts on his supporters: an aura that suggests to them that their anger is fully justified, that the United States will be tough enough to deal with the perceived causes of that anger, and that their lives will improve as a result of their support for Trump. In short, Trump’s entire policy platform can be summarized by his campaign slogan that he intends to “make America great again.”
Key bases of campaign support
Trump’s primary voters come from a certain sector of Republicans (or Republican-leaning independents) who would essentially never vote Democratic but have also felt their own interests to have been ignored or even spurned by the traditional Republican Party. Graham has referred to this cohort of American voters as the silent minority.
It would seem that Trump’s candidacy and the campaign have finally provided these voters with a figure with whom they can identify, a figure whom they truly believe speaks on their behalf and represents their own perspective of the world. The implication is that traditional Republican candidates have generally failed to address the needs and desires of this constituency and that the constituency has largely just gone along with the Republican Party in the past as a result of the simple desire to choose the lesser of the two evils.
Demographic data indicates that Trump’s primary base of support consists of white men who do not possess college educations, along with white men approaching the age of retirement (Campbell). Trump’s support is considerably less among women in general, and minorities of all kinds. These basic trends seem to indicate two main points. The first is that Trump’s appeal to his supporters is primarily visceral and emotional, as opposed to intellectual, in nature.
One does not support Trump because one believes in his specific policy proposals or even his general competence to serve as the leader of the United States; one supports Trump because one is deeply discontent with the nature of contemporary American society, and one sees in Trump a man who understands that discontent and has the power to do something about it.
Secondly, it would seem that the people who are most discontent with emerging trends in American society (i.e. white men) are the ones who historically had a much more dominant social position within society, but now see that position being severely compromised as a result of demographic, economic, and ideological changes that have happened within the nation over the past several years.
Prospects for Trump’s success
Several months ago, there was a virtual consensus in the media that Trump was more or less a joke, and that he could never conceivably win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency of the United States. More recently, though, this evaluation has tended to become much more cautious and ambivalent. Cohn, for instance, has admitted as much, even if in a backhanded way:
“His [Trump’s] chances of winning—which are real, even if not good—depend on much more on the weaknesses of his opponents than his own strengths. The good news for Mr. Trump is that the opposition is flawed enough to entertain such an outcome” (paragraph 5).
That is, the Republican Party has not thus far successfully fielded a singular candidate with the kind of broad-based appeal that would be needed to oppose the force of Trump’s more extreme and narrow bases of support. Moreover, insofar as the other candidates continue dividing the vote, Trump will continue to gain from the fissures within the Republican Party itself.
Trump has a good chance of beating the Republican contenders for the 2016 Presidential Election, and his electability for the presidency itself against a Democrat remains uncertain. Given current demographic data and trends, it would seem that the Democratic candidate would win strong majorities of virtually all minority populations (racial, gender, et cetera) within the United States; and it is not clear that Trump could actually win the presidency without substantial support from these quarters.
However, it is also well-known that presidential candidates tend to present the most ideologically extreme versions of themselves during the campaign for nomination and often tend to pivot toward winning a broader appeal when running for the presidency itself and not just the part nomination. It is unclear whether Trump would be capable of making such a move without losing his core base of popular support, no matter how wild and comedic the rhetoric gets.
Interested in extremist views? Check out more examples of extremism in everyday life.
Ball, Molly. “The Ecstasy of Donald Trump.” The Atlantic. 26 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/11/the-ecstasy-of-donald-trump/417870/.
Berman, Russell. “A Frontrunner Republicans Will Denounce but Not Reject.” The Atlantic. 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/donald-trump-paul-ryan-nominee-muslims/419448/.
Campbell, Colin. “‘He’s Not Going Away’: Here’s the Fuel Behind the Donald Trump Rocket Ship.” Business Insider. 1 Aug. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.businessinsider.com/who-are-donald-trumps-supporters-2015-7.
Cohn, Nate. “How Trump Could Win, and Why He Probably Won’t.” New York Times. 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/15/upshot/how-trump-could-win-and-why-he-probably-wont.html?_r=0.
D’Antonio, Michael. “What I Learned Writing Trump’s Biography.” Politico. 25 Sep. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/donald-trump-biography-what-i-learned-213188.
Denby, David. “The Plot against America: Donald Trump’s Rhetoric.” 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/plot-america-donald-trumps-rhetoric.
Graham, David A. “Donald Trump’s Silent Minority.” The Atlantic. 2 Oct. 2015. Web. 13 Jan. 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/the-potential-and-limitations-of-the-trump-coalition/408742/.