Trumpmentum appears to be a thing. And no one understands why.
I don’t blame them. On paper, Donald Trump’s candidacy looks like it should be a laughingstock in any Republican primary, let alone one in a party where ideological purity still means a great deal.
The anti-Trump case is comprehensive, so let’s review it. Trump identified as a Democrat until recently. He supports trade protections more draconian than even some unions propose. He speaks about his religion without a trace of fluency. He openly opines about whether he’d be dating his own daughter if they weren’t related. And he supported a “one-time” wealth tax. This reads like someone who’d only run for the GOP nomination as an extended exercise in concern trolling.
Yet until Thursday’s debate Trump was surging in the GOP field, where his former liberalism is apparently both forgiven and forgotten. His relentless love affair with gaffes that would end any other politician’s career have instead gotten him branded as a truth-teller in some circles. His undisciplined speech-making apparently comes off as authentic. Far from turning off voters and making him unrelatable, his Shelleyite “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” brashness is apparently now considered endearing.
The Donald Trump Appeal
What’s going on? Pollsters may be inclined to scoff that the Trump bump is purely a function of his titanic name recognition. There’s probably some truth to this. Like it or not, Trump undeniably has a gift for making people know his name…again and again and again. But just because someone is known doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll inspire support. Name recognition can imply infamy just as easily as it can signify fame.
Nevertheless, the assumption is that Trump will flame out quickly. Unflattering comparisons to Herman Cain, another erratic billionaire flash-in-the-pain, are already being made. Perhaps this is true, but Cain’s appeal was based at least partly on the fact that many conservatives wanted to watch their liberal opponents implode when forced to reckon with the idea of the first black president facing off against a black challenger. Trump obviously enjoys no such advantage; if anything, he’ll give liberals a field day branding the GOP as a party of angry plutocrats. So even if he does end up like Cain, the appeal is clearly different.