Through the haze of jet lag and the afterglow of a wonderful two weeks in Europe I am trying to assess what if anything has changed regarding the 2016 Presidential campaign while I was gone. On the Democratic side Hillary is still the presumed nominee despite some handwringing by some media and political establishment types. However, on the Republican side I am shocked that Trump is still the dominant candidate, overshadowing all of his rivals. The candidate that I dubbed the chief clown driving the Republican clown car seems to be striking a chord with the GOP base. As I try to clear that jet lag haze and sharpen the picture nothing changes. Trump is really resonating with a broad base of Republican voters. It seems that the circus clown has become the ringmaster
This fact raises two obvious questions. First, what about Trump has made him so successful at connecting with the Republican base? The second question, perhaps more important, why has no other candidate been able to make the same connection? It’s too simple to say that he is connecting because he is a non-politician. We have seen that happen before, so it is nothing new. But this feels new. This isn’t another Ross Perot. Perot’s focus was on the economy from a practical business standpoint. Trump’s approach is far broader and all encompassing. He is touching all of the issues confronting our country. But how about the other candidates? Is their approach to the issues so different from Trump’s? In fact, the differences are slight and nuanced. The reality is that the base’s reaction to Trump’s positions has caused the other candidates to make adjustments and fall in line with him. Yet, despite the similarity in positions and the undeniable political success of many of his rivals, Trump still leads the pack.
Then perhaps, rather than looking at the candidates, we should be looking at the base of the GOP. What is so different about them this time around that they are rejecting the kinds of candidates they have previously embraced? Huckabee and Santorum were both very successful in Iowa last time, yet this time they are of little consequence. What is it that they are looking for that they are not seeing in the other 16 candidates vying for their attention? If the candidates’s positions on the issues of consequence are similar then what characteristics separate Trump from the rest? What is the base looking for that the other’s simply don’t have?
I believe that there are three Trump characteristics that separate him from the pack. First, he is unapologetically wealthy. But he also states clearly that he achieved his wealth “the old fashion way”, he earned it. What’s more, he promises to create an economy that will provide more people with the opportunity to achieve his kind of wealth. Second, he presents his wealth as an asset in his run for the presidency. It enables him to be his own man and not listen to or be beholden to any donor or lobbyist or interest group, while all of the other candidates lack such freedom and independence. Finally, he is savvy in his use of the media and dominates the conversation. The self-confidence and boldness behind his rhetoric speak to a beleaguered base longing for another victory and the White House.
Certainly, we all know that summer heat cools in the winter cold. It is a long time between now and the snowy Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The months ahead are a political lifetime. However, it has become clear that the candidate that began his efforts cast as a clown, has risen to the prominent position of ringmaster. Who knows what position he will hold 6 months from now.