He’s still the front-runner for the Republican Party nomination to become their candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Logically he should have flamed out long ago, but Donald Trump continues to defy expectations.
I will admit to being a bit surprised, not at his popularity but that the party establishment hasn’t managed to reign him in and promote more moderate candidates. That this has yet to happen would seem to indicate that they don’t know how to do it.
Trump is an American creation, born out of a frustration with the political elite. Rightly or wrongly, a large segment of American society feels disenfranchised by the politics of the past 30 years. They are fed up with the political class telling them what to think and believe. They are fed up with two parties that appear to put politics before service to the country. So they turn to an outsider, one who makes outrageous statements but listens to them and provides a voice to their alienation. (As I typed those words I realized that not only was I describing America in 2015 but Germany in 1933. Now that is scary.)
There are probably more differences than similarities between Weimar Germany and present-day America, but the overwhelming desire for change is probably the same, a realization that the status quo is no longer desirable. In such situations outsiders with a populist message find fertile ground. That much has not changed since the 1930s. Donald Trump’s success, such as it is so far, comes from his understanding of media and the times far more than his outrageous pronouncements.
In one outrageous statement after another Trump has shown that he is an entertainer with a keen understanding of the public angst of the day. He has also shown that he has a hazy understanding of American law – many of his proposals, as popular as they seem to be, are blatantly illegal. A recent example would be his plan to not allow Muslims, including returning U.S. Citizens, to cross American borders. No court would uphold that one.
I still can’t decide if Donald Trump takes himself seriously. To me there is the strong possibility that this is a giant reality show, one where the audience gets to participate. When an outrageous statement fails to dent his popularity and derail his campaign, Trump tries to come up with something even more incredible that will top it. His popularity remains undiminished.
But it is only December. At this stage no-one has been confronted with a ballot with Donald Trump’s name on it; no-one has been asked to live with the consequences of their vote. When it gets real the results may be quite different than what the polls show. (For speculation purposes, I ask you, how much of Trump’s “support” in the polls comes from Democrats who figure he would be the easiest candidate for their nominee to beat? The decline in polling methodology makes that quite possible in my estimation.)
There is also a need to put Trumps popularity in perspective. There are so many polls, and as I have said, as a political scientist I find much questionable methodology in the polling industry these days. But let’s take the latest poll, released Monday, which gave Trump his highest numbers ever.
The Monmouth University (a place I’ve never heard of, but maybe I’m in the minority) poll has Trump at 41% of Republican voters. To me the five per cent margin of error claimed seems a little low for a 385 voter poll – much too small for a national sample in my opinion.
Even if the numbers are accurate though, that means Trump has 41% of Republicans, who are about half of American voters. That means he has support of only about 20% of electors. Seems to me he has a long way to go yet.
Think about that today and we’ll talk more about The Donald tomorrow.