Donald Trump is not my preferred candidate … at least not yet. He has some work to do to convince me of, well, anything. But I think I understand “why” he is being so successful, and it has nothing to do with anything that I am hearing anywhere. NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, Drudge Report … seriously — everyone is getting it wrong.
Why Trump? I mean, he sort of ran last time, but dropped out quickly for the stated reason of keeping his financials private. Whether we completely believe that public statement or not, it’s clear that he never got much interest or support in that previous run. In addition, he has no real political experience whatsoever, often shoots wildly from the hip, and can be off-putting and caustic. But whatever we may think about Donald Trump himself and whatever we may think about the political parties, let’s set that aside for the moment and talk about the psychology of the thing. Why is the Republican audience leaning so strongly on him?
The pundits, commentators, and “experts” are saying all kinds of things. But I think that Trump is doing so well because of three primary reasons:
- John Boehner
Reason #1: It’s John Boehner’s Fault
OK, it’s not Boehner’s fault per se, but former Speaker of the House John Boehner represents everything the core Republican base despises. He and all of the old-school, deal-making, power-hungry elitist politicians we have elected who proudly display a capital “R” by their name. If you listen to what they sold the voting base over the last seven years and compared that to what they actually did once elected, it is depressing at best.
Each election cycle the base has turned out, volunteered, donated, and voted. There are now more Republicans holding federal and major state elected offices than at any time since the Civil War. And within months of each election, those popinjays in DC tell us that there is nothing they can do about anything until we give them more. It never stops.
Think of it like a boyfriend or a girlfriend. In every situation, the effort put into a relationship is never really equal. Someone always gives a bit more, loves a bit more, or is a bit less selfish. We all have learned to handle a little imbalance in the name of love. But if one side of the relationship does ALL the giving and the other side does nothing but hang out with their pals drinking every night, expecting a hot meal and a kiss when they come back after a night of carousing, the relationship is doomed.
John Boehner, Eric Cantor (we just voted him out), Mitch McConnell, and now — unfortunately — Paul Ryan have been stepping out on the Republican base for nearly a decade and it’s high time we got a little love and attention. Heck … some of us don’t even think that they like us all that much. We feel used. Sure, they sing a good song when they want money or votes, but once we’ve — forgive the term — put out, they make a hasty retreat to the door and tell us that we “just don’t understand” the pragmatic realities of this or that.
I do not want to get too graphic here, nor do I want to portray myself as bitter. But I think I can speak for a large swath of the electorate out there when I say that those politicians treat their interns better. Perhaps even buy them a dinner or blow them a kiss on their way to the next “fact-finding” junket to the Caribbean.
We’ve had enough. If those guys can play the field, we can too. That’s why three of the top four candidates on the right side of the campaign are outsiders (including Ted Cruz who, even though a Senator, has been jilted by the leadership himself).
Reason #2: It’s About the Money
I am on every candidate’s mailing list. I perform this act of self-flagellation on purpose. I do not recommend it.
If you saw how many condescending, dumbed-down, borderline idiotic messages that arrive daily into my various inboxes you would qualify for a Prozac prescription. But the communications pro and economist in me wants to see those messages. And lest the left-leaning readers feel left out, I am on the email distributions from the Democrats as well, and they are all equally poorly-written and moronic — filled as they are with pseudo-push-poll nonsense and claptrap. They often scream things like “We want your opinion!” and have some sort of a contrived “survey” wrapper covering a donation button. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they are always just a few dollars away from some “goal.”
I don’t fall for any of it. I have seen the scientific research about action messages, so I know that the vast majority of these are simply lies … manipulations … contrivances of convenience from our abusive spouse heading out the door on the way to the bar.
I got an email from the Trump campaign last week. It just said Merry Christmas. Not Happy Holidays, not Seasons Greetings … just Merry Christmas. There was no way for me to donate or “contribute” or any other euphemism for paying anyone’s election-year bar tab.
This is not only because Trump seems to understand his audience, but because he is self-funding. He is running on his own dime. Right, left, center, or jungle-living Javan villager, how do you not think that a good thing? I have been around a while and I have never seen such a thing before. How about you?
Far too many politicians of all stripes have become filthy rich in office. For Trump, the presidential paycheck is a rounding error. He likely spent more last year on fuel for his private jet. Speaking fees? Trump made more cash on one season of The Apprentice reality show than Bill and Hilary made on all those rubber-chicken dinner-speeches delivered in “questionable” overseas locations.
So … Trump may be in it for ego and self-aggrandizement, he may be in it for status, or he may be in it — as he says in his spot-on-marketing tag line — to Make America Great Again. But presidents put their investments into blind trusts while in office and he is going to spend millions of his own dollars in the race, so — even though we may be missing something here — he is not likely in it for the cash.
Imagine some Armani-clad lobbyist slithering into the White House with a six-figure check in one hand and the promise of a cushy consulting gig after he leaves office in the other. Would that turn Donald Trump’s head … would he even notice?
Now be honest with yourself … do you think that Hillary Clinton would take that meeting?
Reason #3: Cultural DNA
For some people, Donald Trump embodies everything they dislike about American culture. I can respect that opinion (even though I might disagree). After all, he is a brash and flamboyant example of conspicuous consumption writ large in bold, ComicSans font.
But try to think of him a little bit differently for a minute.
He is a 1962 Cadillac DeVille with candy-apple red paint and big tail fins pulling into Walmart. He is a big, bad Ford F350 dually with four-wheel drive. He is a pimped-out “crib” in New York and palatial estate by the beach in Florida (literally). And even though they may chafe at the comparison, he is both Dr. Dre and Kid Rock — decked out in bling and drinking champaign and Courvoisier with a super-model by his side. The only difference is the business model he took to get there.
In short, every person buying a lotto ticket today — Democrat, Republican, or Independent — would consider using Trump as a role-model for their winnings. Donald Trump’s life is the reason most people buy lotto tickets in the first place … he is living the dream. Their dream. They understand his luxuries and excesses because they imagine that they might do exactly the same thing. For all of the pomp and circumstance and braggadocio, he seems genuine and culturally “real” in an upside down, social media, selfie-stick, celebrity-addled world. His life may be lit in garish neon, but it does not feel like a lie. It feels … American. Can any of us confidently say the same about the lifestyle presentations of most of the other candidates? A few perhaps.
Sure, Trump is a successful businessman famous for making great deals — and we sure could use a bit of that in government these days. And he did graduate from Wharton — one of the finest business schools in the world — at the top of his class. So even though he speaks in plain, bold language with little nuance, no one gets that kind of a degree without being smart … scratch that, REALLY smart. But if a solid resumé was going to close the presidential deal, several other candidates would be tracking as high in the polls. There is something else going on here.
Donald Trump is a lot of things. One of those things right now is the leader in virtually all of the Republican primary polls. As the new year begins, we will likely wake up tomorrow to discover that he still leads those polls, and the media and Washington elites of all colors and affiliations will still not understand why.
Mean while, the fly-over voters who make up the core of the Republican base will get up and go to work thinking and dreaming.
Happy New Year
(this post was originally published by me on the Medium website on New Years Eve, December 31st, 2015)