observations and opinion
The incessant drumbeat throughout August has been that Donald Trump cannot win in November. This should sound familiar by now, because it is exactly what everyone said about Donald Trump throughout the Republican primaries: he cannot win.
But he did win. Remember?
One of Mr. Trump’s greatest assets in politics, is the overwhelming inclination of everyone else to under-estimate him. No one who thinks he knows anything about politics, thought Trump could prevail in the GOP nomination hunt. No one. Donald Trump has defied the entire galaxy of informed opinion in the United States, to become the single largest star in the political firmament. Is he going supernova? Well, people have been saying that for as long as he’s been around but, you know, he’s still there.
Why? There’s one word for it: confidence. He is a true confidence man – winning people’s trust through a grand display of self-promotion and salesmanship. He lies a lot, but unlike the less gifted liars, Mr. Trump carries the special gene which transforms his lies into a mirage: he believes his own stories. “if I imagine it, it must be true.” That’s how he sees plane loads of money landing in Iran, or crowds of Muslims celebrating on 9/11 in New Jersey, or boatloads of rapists ripping across the Rio Grande. He believes his own fantasies, and a lot of other people believe what he says, so more people listen, and poof – he’s President.
Okay, he’s not President yet. But he holds one of the two tickets to the White House – a ticket which 40% of the electorate is congenitally inclined to punch. His only serious competitor has the second highest negative ratings of any Presidential nominee ever (after Mr. Trump) and although she is a tremendously experienced technocrat, Ms. Clinton does not light a fire in the hearts even of those who yearn to burn for her. That puts her at a disadvantage, up against the weird idiot savant that is Donald J. Trump.
The only thing weirder than Mr. Trump, actually, is the blind insistence of the political class to doubt that he can win. An exception to this is Newt Gingrich, an opportunistic but brilliant man. Gingrich rightly calls Trump “a gifted amateur” and points out in the recent Run-up podcast, that Trump has learned in 15 months a trade which Hillary Clinton has yet to master after 40 years’ effort: running for office.
Of course, there is more to being elected President than raw talent. There is self-discipline, a character trait which Clinton is as endowed with as Trump is missing. There is a committed political machine, which Clinton clearly is riding and Trump is incapable of building or operating. It is also helpful – and this is something that cannot be denied – that virtually every single person in the country with knowledge about politics and a public platform, thinks Trump a fool and takes Clinton seriously. The “Trumpanzees” are right about that – the media really is on Clinton’s side, not because of a conspiracy but because they’ve taken a good look at Donald Trump and he scares them.
Getting elected President rests on more than all that, though. There is also the often overlooked attribute of worthiness – the invisible but recognizable personal characteristic which voters can usually discern in a candidate. For all her flaws and mistakes, Hillary Clinton is a serious person who takes the job seriously. She is incredibly earnest about the work. Trump is incredibly earnest about himself, and he treats almost everything else with casual disdain. A lot of people actually LIKE that about Trump, but more seem to view him as large, ghoulish toddler.
With all that going on around him, Mr. Trump looks like beaten. The monstrous Stay-Puft Marshmallow man, having stomped all over the country, is now being barbequed by a girl Ghostbuster. It looks good on him. But is he toast yet? The polls are not friendly to him, but those same polls create a relaxed complacency where people tend to forget: Donald Trump is on the ballot in every state and territory. He has the baked-in reflexive loyalty of 40% of the electorate. He has huge, unpredictable talents. And he has a message.
The message may be revolting to many, but it is magnetic to millions: the country is in decline, the wrong people are coming in and taking over, we need to take our country back, we need to send the wrong people away, we should be building tractors not buying them from foreign countries, we shouldn’t bankroll other countries’ defenses – we should sell our services, not give them away to so-called allies. We should build tariff and physical walls to protect what we’ve got, and we shouldn’t trust strangers.
That message resonates with millions of people who, through economic and social change, feel diminished and disadvantaged in the modern world. You don’t have to agree with reactionary voters to recognize that they have real complaints about an economy where they can’t earn a middle class wage with a high school diploma. You don’t have to feel the same things to understand their discomfort in a world where the Pride Parade attracts more people, and is more socially acceptable, than the Santa Claus Parade.
And it shouldn’t be a surprise that this sentiment is so exploitable, because we just saw it used to great effect in Britain’s June 2016 referendum on whether to remain in the EU. The “Leave” campaign was completely juiced with all the same sour sentiments being milked by Donald Trump. Nobody took it seriously and while “Leave” had some political elite support, notably from Cabinet Minister Boris Johnson, no-one believed those people were sincere – it was understood that they were going along with a convenient, red meat campaign that would garner them the right friends after the majority voted to “Remain.”
In the months prior to the vote, UK polls consistently put “Remain” ahead, and often by double digit margins. The first poll to put “Leave” at 50% was published on April 29th – seven weeks before the vote. After that began a discernible ticking-up of the anti-EU vote, but in a form so sporadic that it was quite reasonable to doubt. The last polls published before the June 24th referendum showed “Remain” ahead, by a few points.
Ultimately, 72% of eligible Britons voted – 37% to Leave, 35% to Remain. Their country and the world awoke in shock the next morning, to the sickening free fall of their markets, their currency and their confidence. And within days of that vote, regret was so widespread that hundreds of thousands were petitioning for a “do-over.” But the same gutless politicians who triggered the Brexit vote, stunned and surprised by the outcome themselves, are now afraid to reverse it.
Brexit was never going to happen. Until it did. Donald Trump is the Brexit in pants. He has broader and fiercer support, from millions of people who often don’t vote, than his opponents dare acknowledge. If you don’t believe it, ask the guy who spent more money running for a nomination than anyone ever – Jeb Bush – or any of the other 15 Republicans chewed up by Trump’s thresher. They’re all gone, but he’s still here.
Donald Trump has the ability and is clearly positioned, to be elected President of the United States. The most dangerous thing to do now, would be to doubt it.
For more on Trump’s appeal to grievance Donald Trump: The Biggest Loser
Category: Trump & Trumpism