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Donald Trump, long the brunt of hair jokes and birther backlash, is the one laughing now. He leads the Republican pack with numbers in the mid-30s, despite a penchant for inflammatory comments and a lack of governmental experience. So what, exactly, is his appeal and how long will it last?
He’s a political outsider
Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” hints at a growing discontent with the political establishment. It conjures up a nostalgic vision of a Rockwellian America that many believe is slipping further and further from their grasp.
“The polling data clearly shows that Americans aren’t particularly happy at the moment,” says Andrew Taylor, professor of Political Science at North Carolina State University. “They dislike politicians. They believe the country is going off on the wrong track.”
Trump’s message is that “established politicians, ones with experience in governmental politics haven’t been able to solve our problems; in fact, they’ve created a bigger mess, and who the country needs at its helm is someone who’s from somewhere else, who’s not from the world of politics,” says Taylor.
He tells his base what they want to hear
Although he has some crossover appeal, Trump supporters are mostly conservative, non-college-educated white males.
“Obviously some of the arguments he’s made with regard to immigration, policies that the United States needs—to stem immigration, to deal with potential terrorist threats—that have kind of racial and religious overtones, is one way that he’s connecting with them,” says Taylor.
Trump is speaking to his base’s anxiety that America is changing, and in some ways it is. According to U.S. Census projections, by 2044, more than half of Americans will belong to a minority group, and by 2060, one in five residents will have been born in another country. This is a real concern to a group of people who believe that this country will be harmed by an influx of foreigners.
He has no filter
However, Taylor believes Trump’s appeal lies more in the way he speaks than what he actually says. Other candidates seem rehearsed, polished; there’s a sense that they have run every word through a focus-group filter. Trump’s speeches, on the other hand, seem free of artifice and all traces of political correctness. To Trump’s supporters, this signals honesty. They believe him because he appears to say what he means without regard to how a particular statement will affect his poll numbers.
“Much of his support is obviously based on his style, his combativeness, his portrayal of strength and commentary on what’s going on in the country, rather than substantive policy matters,” says Taylor.
National government distrust is high
And opinion of politicians is low. According to the Pew Research Center, only 29 percent of Americans believe that elected leaders are honest, and a majority of 74 percent believe that politicians put their own interests ahead of the nation’s. More than half the population believes that ordinary Americans would do a better job solving the nation’s problems than our elected leaders.
Can Trump win the republic nomination?
How far will this style-over-substance approach take him? Taylor believes we have already hit peak Trump.
“Will he be the nominee? I don’t think so. I probably put his chances sort of one in four, for a number of reasons. The major one being that his negatives are so high, even within the Republican party. And you have to remember, the race for the Republican nomination won’t have this dynamic for too much longer,” says Taylor.
The field will shrink as the race continues, and support will coalesce around the remaining candidates. However, Taylor doesn’t think this will be a boon to Trump.
“My sense is that the dynamics of the race are going to be difficult for him to get the nomination, because the anti-Trump, or the ‘We can’t afford to have Trump because he’ll sink the party’ sentiment is going to be galvanized behind one alternative,” he says.
And who might that alternative be? It’s too early to call, but Taylor says the end game might be a matchup between cultural conservative Ted Cruz and establishment candidate Marco Rubio.
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