Can an Uninhibited Clown Like Trump Become US President?

Trump, Trump, always Trump. In the U.S. presidential election campaign so far, it’s been all about the blonde-haired billionaire with behavioral issues. Donald Trump even dominates a televised debate of Republican candidates when he’s not even there. More than once in their discussion, his rivals referred to the missing clown in their midst as if they couldn’t manage without him. Afterward, commentators asked only one question: Did Trump’s boycott of the last TV confrontation before the primaries on Feb. 1 in Iowa because he didn’t like the moderator hurt or possibly benefit him?

It is unimaginable that an ill-behaved and uninhibited eccentric like Donald Trump could move into the White House after the elections on Nov. 8. And yet, the real estate tycoon still leads the field of Republican candidates in every survey. Victory in Iowa should be his, and presumably in New Hampshire a few days later, too. Things are gradually becoming sinister, even for the maniac-in-chief himself. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Trump boasted recently.

This is his recipe for success — breaking all rules of decency and civilized debate. That’s how he gets attention. The more shrill, grotesque, primitive and blustering, the better. He can get away with calling all Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, demanding Muslims be banned from entering the country, make disparaging remarks about the appearance of a female rival, disparage women as “fat pigs,” and still, his approval ratings go up. The reservoir of frustrated, angry white Americans is clearly rather large, and Trump is still unscrupulously draining it.

Europe also has its terrible simplifiers. Populism is by no means confined to the U.S. The hour of the clown has struck the whole world, from Guatemala to Italy. In many democracies, politics have turned into a freak show, lurid entertainment for disappointed, angry citizens. Whoever rants about the establishment vehemently and fiercely enough wins the hearts of the marginalized. And there are many of them in societies with stagnating average incomes. Aggressive loudmouths need not have a performance record, just snappy slogans. Breaking taboos gets ratings; the stage belongs to the fool. Trump is proof that it goes even deeper.

It’s bad enough to have to be concerned about whether a brute populist like Trump could actually become commander-in-chief of the U.S. But it remains highly unlikely that he can win a majority in the presidential election campaign. With Trump as lead candidate, the Republicans hardly have a chance. For purely demographic reasons, they need the votes of Hispanics, whom Trump snubs. The Republicans will therefore enter someone in the race who can win against the probable Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. From the current perspective, that would be Marco Rubio.

Not for the first time, an outsider is leading at the start of the primary season. In 2008, Mike Huckabee won in Iowa; in 2012, it was initially Rick Santorum. Their popularity quickly fell. Trump will surely occupy Americans for a while.

The system of primaries has already been rendered meaningless anyway. Supporters of the selection procedure like to argue that it puts candidates through their paces. On the very first day of Trump’s candidacy — in June 2015 — it was clear that he was completely unsuited for the office of president. He flaunts his mistakes openly. It’s just that this doesn’t bother enough voters. The U.S. could save a lot of time, energy and nerves if it shortened the length of the campaign. A few months of theater with an actor like Trump would be exhausting enough. The performance really doesn’t have to last considerably longer than a year.

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