Donald Trump has taken the political world by storm. He is currently the Republican frontrunner, garnering around a quarter of the GOP in the most recent Fox News poll on August 16 with no signs of slowing down. The thing is, nobody outside of his supporters can figure out why. He is bombastic, his ideas are way outside of the mainstream, let alone having little basis in reality, and his views on women and minorities could charitably be referred to as lacking nuance.
However, Trump supporters (what do we call them anyway? Trumpets?) are rabidly in support of him and, despite his unquestionably liberal past, seem to be mostly coming from the extreme conservative wing of the party. In fact, the more often he blusters and makes controversial statements, the more his support seems to grow. So what are the reasons for this surge in popularity for the man who most resembles a real life comic book villain?
If there is one thing that can accurately describe conservatives, especially ones from rural areas, it’s that they have a strong respect for old school ideals, not the least of which are an enforcement of traditional gender roles. With that comes a hyper masculinity that borders on testosterone poisoning. Alpha males rule this type of setting, and Donald Trump is unquestionably an alpha male. He dominates every setting he is in, usually by bullying anybody who questions his authority with name calling or simply shouting over them. In the business world, this has led to great personal success and fame for the man, despite the fact that his business track record is littered with more failures than you can imagine. He has done most of his business with a combination of bluster and questionable ethics, but he who shouts the loudest can often drown out any opposition.
Another thing that defines conservatives is the aversion to rapid change–it’s why they call themselves conservatives, after all. In the modern era, change has come very rapidly, especially in the social and cultural sphere. Whether it’s LGBTQ issues, abortion rights, or illegal immigration, many conservatives view their way of life as being under assault. They were perfectly happy with things the way they perceived them to be in the 1950s–gays in the closet, Mexicans south of the border, women in the kitchen, and blacks on the south side of their cities. Now they see same sex marriage as the law of the land, women breaking down gender barriers across the board, Mexicans immigrating illegally, and black people squaring off with police nationwide. The change has been too rapid and Trump has promised to slow it down, if not completely reverse it. His now infamous remarks regarding Mexican immigrants are certainly the most prominent example, but his willingness to call women “fat pigs” or blame their perceived hostility against him on “blood coming out of [their] wherever,” he has shown that he will not mince words, even when common sense and decorum would call for it.
This perceived ability and, more importantly, willingness to “tell it like it is” is a major trait associated with alpha males and tends to draw in the old school mentality that prefers that sort of personality. Not only that, but his supporters feel increasingly marginalized by the direction the country is taking, primarily because of the aforementioned social issues, but also because of the rapid swing to the left that has occurred over President Obama’s tenure.
Ironically, Trump himself was once one of the most outspoken left liberals in the United States. Supporting everything from gun control to single payer healthcare to anti abortion rhetoric, he was once one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest contributors. That all changed in 2009 when, gripped by nationalistic fervor he rode the birther movement to the spotlight, questioning Barack Obama’s nationality and legality of his candidacy for president. If you’re sensing a pattern of Trump calling minorities out for infiltrated America, you have identified arguably Trump’s biggest obstacle in the race. Well, that and his treatment of women.
There has also been a massive anti-intellectualism movement sweeping through the Republican Party in recent years. Whether it’s a resurgence of creationism, fighting even the Pope on issues of environmentalism while burying their heads in the sand about climate change, as well as the anti-vaxxer movement that has struck the extremist wing of both major parties, though it has hit the GOP much harder, it’s no surprise that the Republican Party is now referred to as “The Stupid Party” by people in all walks of life. This anti-intellectualism comes with the aforementioned machismo and respect for older ways of thinking, even when they are demonstrably false as in the case of scientific facts.
With all of that said, perhaps the biggest reason The Donald is doing so well in the polls is a question of simple math. There are currently at least 17 candidates seeking the nod for the Republican Party, possibly more than three dozen depending on how you count it, and the average person probably couldn’t name more than five. Trump is the only one who has done anything to distinguish himself from the pack. Jeb Bush’s main credential is that he is a Bush, but totally not that one Bush that nobody likes. Rand Paul’s is a Libertarian, except when he’s not. Ben Carson is black and Carly Fiorina is a woman and so on and so on. The bottom line is that every other candidate is relying on who they are rather than what they are saying, while Trump is appealing to both. In fact, most of the other candidates are completely interchangeable with one another on nearly every issue, so the only thing they can rely on is identity politics to help them stay in the race. This has led to 75 percent of the vote being split up between 16 or so candidates, while Trump has garnered those who see someone with a message, even if that message is a bit out there.
The bottom line is that Trump will likely remain the frontrunner for much of the early race, but eventually the candidates will begin to get culled. Once the others begin to drop out, they will start the incestuous backing of one another, and you can rest assured few, if any, will throw their weight behind The Donald. He has no chance of getting the nomination, let alone making it into the White House, but everybody already knows that, despite all the current bluster.
Still, he could become a spoiler if he jumps ship and runs as a third party candidate once he exits the GOP field.