Hobby politician, GOP frontrunner and rhetoric demolition expert Donald J. Trump won a sweeping victory on Super Tuesday. He took home 7 states compared to Cruz’s 3 and Rubio’s 1, securing a resounding confirmation: the Republican counter-Trump strategy has failed. When ignoring the Orange Elephant had no avail in the Autumn of 2015, candidates, conservative officials and media heavyweights took to ridicule – Lindsay Graham introduced this phase by calling the choice between Cruz and Trump one between being “shot or poisoned”. Recently, Rubio took up the mantle by attacking Trump on his business failures, his fingers and his foreign policy ignorance. With Mitt Romney’s desperate policy ballistics on Wednesday, the anti-Trump movement has entered phase 3: parentative pleading. The 2012 Republican nominee seemed exasperated with Trump’s widespread support among all Republican Demographics – the impression he gave was that of an annoyed mother, fed up with a kid’s outlandish behaviour.
But despite exponentially increasing efforts (and increasingly sharp soundbites, in the style of “a vote for Trump is as worthless as a degree from Trump university”) the media-mogul is still riding a wave of anti-establishment sentiment. It’s impossible to deny: ‘The Donald’ is leading a movement of the politically disenfranchised. Frustrated with economic stagnation and irritated by Washington’s inability to relieve the declining Middle Class, Trump’s supporters want to bring ‘change’ to the White House and “make America great again”. The grandiose image of wealth and power that is associated with the Trump-brand inspires their confidence that a Trumpian America will indeed be a ‘great’ one.
The Trumpian Appeal
Rhetorically, the anti-establishment (and apparently anti-policy) candidate has been able to fuel the mushrooming populist support by applying a form of reduced reasoning: he reduces an issue (illegal immigration, lack of economic growth, expensive healthcare) to a short, memorable, maximally 5-word battlecry, clearly identifying the predominant detrimental factor and an external scapegoat. Illegal immigration became ‘criminal Mexicans taking our work’, economic stagnation turned into ‘China is stealing our companies’, expensive healthcare metamorphosed into ‘they’re not competitive enough’. The scapegoat seems like a logically predominant variable causing the initial issue and Trump’s vehement insistence regarding the factuality of his claim catches on to other Right-wing pundits quickly. Mr Trump then promises, in the most simplistic and straightforward manner possible, to eliminate said detrimental variable – “We’re going to build a wall”, “We’ll bring our jobs back from China and Japan”, “We’ll get rid of the lines around the state”. Scapegoating an external force or party, Donald J. Trump manages to rally his angry following against Immigrants, China, Muslim terrorists, Iran, Obama & Obamacare. He does not need to talk policy – he attracts supporters with criticism. The frustration with gridlock and ineffective politics draws irritated Americans towards a political candidate who refuses to talk policy. With the Billionaire promising to smash the status quo, these irritated Americans make up the most loyal following of any of the presidential candidates. This is why, when the definition of a Republican establishment politician (in the form of Mitt Romney) came knocking at Trump’s rhetoric front door, the billionaire could just laugh it off. But just why didn’t any of the plentiful attacks hit home?
No soundbites, ridicule and condemnation have been able to curb this loyalty. But isn’t that only logical? Trump’s voters identify strongly with his campaign and its unforgettable slogan and motto – “Make America great again”. They are united in their frustrations with DC and the political class. And because of this unity and this identification, an attack of ridicule against the Trump-campaign is an attack of ridicule against his followers. Calling his message ‘stupid’ or engaging in Graham-like insults only further alienates these followers. Imagine to have your intellectual validity questioned due to your political allegiance. Are you more likely to be swayed to vote for the harsh critic or identify more strongly with your initial position? This is a political truth that the GOP seems to have realised too late – Trump was ignored, brushed aside or, if anything, faced attempts at delegitimisation. And don’t misunderstand me: by no stretch of the imagination can Donald Trump be considered a legitimate politician. Regardless of that, the self-superior conduct of establishment politicians in the end fuelled the monstrosity that is the Trump campaign.
If anyone wants to stop ‘The Donald’ now, they will have to take him seriously. They have to – whether ideologically avert to their sentiment or not – accept the legitimacy of Trump’s followers. The billionaire’s presidential run is not simply fuelled, carried and perpetuated by myriads of headlines and a bloodthirsty media circus. His demographically diverse, loyal support carries the demagogue. To stop him, one will have to guide the anti-establishment sentiment away from the eccentric businessman. ‘Make America great again’ must in the minds of Trump’s supporters be disentangled from the Trump-brand. Only then can the poll numbers be eroded underneath the feet of the populist propagator. If any politician wants to sustainably abrade the foundation of Trumpian political success, they will have to praise the will of his grassroots movement. Only then will the GOP be able to fire at will into the many critical structural weakspots in the bombastically pompous ship that is Trump’s candidacy. Only then will one be able to take on what should be a minute challenge: use reason, not resent to diplomatically highlight Donald J. Trump’s inability and unsuitability to serve in the oval office. Because one thing is for certain: Mr Trump is neither worthy nor ready to serve as the next president of the United States of America.