Naked Politics Blogger
Donald Trump is electrifying the United States right now. Back in Chelsea (no, not that area in New York; the London one), people are confused. You see, we also have The Apprentice – and it is also run by a loud, self-made boss, Lord Alan Sugar. But, other than accepting a peerage back in 2009, Sugar has stayed away from politics. Even as a Lord, Sugar has spoken just 8 times in the last 12 months in our House of Lords.
So, forgive us in England for watching on with a degree of bemusement. Although a strong nationalistic message and a sprinkling of glamour may well work here, we simply have no precedent in the UK and are, basically, looking in from the outside. Just think that this is the man, as the Washington Post wrote, who bemoaned coming to New York after college with only $500,000. It is crazy.
Trump is unapologetically rich and brazen, which should alienate ‘ordinary voters’. But it seems that his sweeping generalisations have voiced the imprecise fears of an ageing working class. To the angry, befuddled, retired white man, Trump seems to be a hero. He voices the concerns, rational and irrational, of a declining workforce scared of alien influences and intrusion. Combative and combustible, Trump does not speak diplomatically.
In this regard, Trump seems different to most politicians. Most politicians believe their policy is better than any other, or that the other policy is failing. Trump seems to bypass the ‘detail’ of policy and takes broader aim, attacking the man (or woman) behind the policy. Trump has attacked the Mexicans (“rapists”), the Chinese and John McCain (“he’s a war hero ‘cause he was captured”). He reduces politics to a personal branding exercise, and Trump – such a forceful and popular persona – can hardly go wrong on these terms. So, when other politicians seek to fight ‘fire with fire’ and go after the man, they fail. Lindsey Graham found this out, labelling Trump a “jackass”, only to have his phone number read out to an audience lapping up Trump’s populist brand.
It is madness; and the UK can only point to UKIP leader Nigel Farage, for a similar brand of aggrandising, nationalistic antagonism. He blamed “immigrants with HIV” for overcrowding our NHS and won 1 seat out of 650 in Parliament…this is why we struggle to fathom how this is working.
Figures prove that the average Trump donor is a retired, male New Yorker: To put into perspective that these ageing, working-class males are Trump’s core-vote and not common to all Republican candidates: 81% of Trump donors are male (Jeb – 67%); ‘Retired and other’ make up $18,475 to law and real-estate $500 (Jeb – $1,258,575 to $1,161,190). The latter professions are arbitrarily chosen, but show that Trump supporters are less likely to come from high-earning professions as to come from retired or low-income households. Either that or high-flying professionals took Trump’s own advice in ‘The Art of The Deal’, “sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make”.
Also worth noting is that among Republicans that believe immigration ‘weakens’ US society, Trump is at 38%, but among Republicans that believe immigration ‘strengthens’ the nation, he plummets to 12% support. What therefore goes against conventional wisdom, is that despite support from this vocal strand of the right wing, Trump is not the authentic, powerful voice of the GOP. In fact, he is said not to ‘reflect the party’s core values’ by 56-32 among Republicans.
In any case, though, Trump is clearly drawing heavily on the support of retired, working-class males in the Republican party for funding in a way that rivals such as Jeb Bush are not.What seems to make Trump unique to his support, therefore, is that he is not a career politician. Even his campaign team is run by peripheral Republican activist, Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski is a chuntering backstage presence, unafraid to “air out issues” according to Bruce Berke, adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich and described as a “bomb thrower” by Republican operatives. These are unreformed outsiders ready to take on the so-called political elite, or so Trump’s acolytes believe.
Really, Trump’s politics seem to be a hazy, amorphous line in nationalism and self-aggrandisement. This works, because America, unlike many other countries, trades on and accepts in its political center-ground, a formidable nationalism. A British Prime Minister, for example, expounding similar nationalistic messages (say, David Cameron calling the French “rapists”) would not be possible. America revels in its self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ tag, so anybody that plays to its superior status will find supporters.
There is talent to Trump’s politics in engaging such a sizeable demographic. There is talent to amassing such a fortune (though he has been bankrupt four times, so is not a flawless businessman) – and Trump is largely self-funded, which is why the donor figures for him and Bush are so different and also shows the self-belief/force of will that makes him attractive to so many. There is also talent to branding oneself over decades so powerfully and so effectively.
Whether it is enough to secure the Republican nomination remains to be seen for the extraordinary champion of the ordinary republican. In the meantime, I am quite content to observe – half-bemused, half-fascinated – from a (relatively) safe distance.