When Donald Trump announced his bid for the Republican candidacy for president in 2016, nobody anticipated that he would be the frontrunner, defying all conventions and common sense. His rise in popularity in the GOP primaries put to the forefront an intolerant, anti-immigrant discourse with fascistic undertones.
The millionaire New Yorker surprised everybody by benefitting from the anger of a conservative, white and undereducated sector that is frustrated with economic, social and demographic changes in the U.S. This sector, which in the last election was identified with the Tea Party, has now turned its anti-government rage against the Republican-led Congress, for failing to stop President Obama or eliminating laws like Obamacare. This is why the current favorite is a celebrity and a businessman with no political experience or ties to Washington.
Trump’s popularity is the result of both a miscalculation of the Republican establishment and the New Yorker’s own cleverness. Trump had speculated with a presidential run for years, establishing a name among the most rabidly anti-Obama sector. The millionaire was the most prominent birther – questioning whether the President was U.S.-born. The party’s establishment exploited the absurd claim by keeping quiet and taking advantage of the Obama bashing.
Likewise, the Republican establishment let the most radical wing of Congress dominate the immigration debate. Trump only increased the volume of the insults hurled at immigrants that had been commonplace in the House for years.
Trump is today the most popular Republican because he is the angriest one. His speeches are rants about his popularity laced with egotistical expressions, while insulting his rivals and making impractical proposals. His followers like him for “saying what he means.” The nonsense he spouts is seen as sincerity, instead of nonsense.
Donald Trump represents the worst qualities in a politician. He is divisive, his message feeds on resentment and his easy solutions are misleading. In the beginning he was called a clown. Not even his party took him seriously, until he proved he has followers, many of them disaffected Republicans.
Next year, votes will replace polls and we will know whether Trump was only the expression of a feeling, or the consolidation of a new ultra-conservative populism.