Crazed, egomaniacal, racist – this is how the Republican U.S. presidential contender presents himself. In spite of this, he leads in the polls. How can that be?
Donald Trump wants to be the American president. The derision triggered by this news in the U.S. was massive. Hardly anyone took the real estate billionaire with the fluffy blond helmet of hair seriously when he announced his candidacy for the presidential nomination on July 16.
The candidacy speech of “McInsanity” was already crazed, and it has not gotten better since then. Trump appears egomaniacal, lusting for attention, making racists statements. And he makes crass mistakes, for example, ridiculing war veteran John McCain. His attorney, too, is not immune to gaffes.
In spite of this, the mockery of many Republicans has died away in the meantime, because Trump is ahead of his competitors in the polls. He even leaves political heavyweights like Jeb Bush or Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker behind. The polling data aggregator Real Clear Politics has calculated an average value from the latest polls. According to that calculation, Trump has a 4.5 percentage point lead.
The Donald Trump I-machine has taught the Republican establishment to fear. How can that be? Here are five reasons for his success.
Trump, the Celebrity
Trump has nothing to show politically, other than his celebrity. But that outshines all of his opponents many times over. Only 1 percent of Americans have never heard of him. Therefore, Trump promises ratings. America loves its celebrities. Thus, the U.S. media rush to him. Primarily media coverage helps candidates have better poll numbers in this early phase of the U.S. election campaign.
Poll respondents name a candidate because he is present, because they know him. Every Republican candidate could record an average of 8 percent growth in poll ratings after the media coverage of announcements declaring their candidacy. The way-above-average frequency of media coverage over an extended period of time has led to a way-above-average plus in the polls for candidate Trump. That, in turn, has resulted in more media coverage. A self-strengthening effect has developed.
Trump, the Non-Politician
Trump presents himself always and everywhere as one who does not belong to the Washington political establishment, a non-politician. For many staunchly conservative Republicans, particularly among the tea party movement, that has long been one of the most important arguments for candidacy: We only elect statesmen who are not politicians. For those who do not feel represented, regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans, and who have adopted an inner opposition to everything that in their view is mainstream, Trump is currently an alternative. Trump himself calls these people “the silent majority.” They have had enough of being pushed around and led by stupid people.
Trump, the Successful Businessman
Trump takes every opportunity to emphasize that he is a successful businessman. Trump is a real estate mogul – who nevertheless had to file for bankruptcy protection several times in his career. It is not clear how much money he possesses. He himself claims it is $10 billion; on the other hand, business magazine Forbes estimates his worth at $4 billion. All the same, Trump is perceived by many Republicans as one who understands capitalism. He is financing his election campaign himself. In typical self-aggrandizement, Trump declares himself “the greatest jobs president that God has ever created.” Primarily young voters who face an uncertain professional life seem to be captivated by this message, reports the conservative Washington Times. In the political middle of the U.S. where the economic crisis and growing inequality is most keenly felt, skepticism toward Trump’s big-mouthed proclamations is great. There, his proclamations are perceived more as a symptom of the crisis, rather than as its solution.
Trump, the Wall-Builder
Trump’s campaign against immigration helps win him many votes. He has made the topic the center of his campaign with extreme, even racist remarks. On Mexico, for example: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” With that, he is hitting home with the far right in the Republican Party. And not only with them. According to a study by CNN, 63 percent of Republicans approve of deporting the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. And then Trump wants to erect a wall on the Mexican border – and the Mexicans should pay for it as well. He has hardly been criticized by the Republican Party for such statements up to now – and that, even though Latinos play an increasingly important role in the election results in the United States.
Trump, the First among Many
Nonetheless, Trump would not be leading the polls at the moment if there were not so many competitors. Fifteen Republicans are campaigning for the presidential nomination. At the moment, Trump stands out among them, due also to the weakness of the others. The party is without leadership. Jeb Bush is considered the favorite, but he has not succeeded up to now in uniting the majority of Republicans behind him. The field is deeply splintered; the votes are distributed among many heads in the polls. With barely 20 percent, the top spot is already predictable. But that has nothing to do with whether Trump can show significant growth in votes as soon as the field thins out. Can one such as Trump really win moderate Republicans for himself? Early polls do not allow for any doubt. Seventy-five percent of voters have maintained they would never be able to vote for Trump.
Trump is momentarily riding high, thanks to the media. Yet this will not last. In a few weeks and months, each of the reasons that currently speak in favor of Trump will turn out to be problems for the self-promoter. The story of the political rise of Donald Trump will soon add a last chapter. The title will be: “The Fall.”