Politics doesn’t belong on this blog. But the 2016 US election decides who will be perhaps the most influential kingpin in global politics—so it’s loosely investing related. And I have a quick point to make that won’t fit into a tweet.
I hope Donald Trump doesn’t become president. He is nuts. But what has been most interesting about the Trump tsunami is how much we misjudged his chances of success. And we’ve done that because we underestimated how wide his base of support is.
The media deserves some scolding for that—read any article on Trump’s support base and they’ll be focused on God-lovin’, gun-totin’, Mexican and Muslim fearin’ Middle Americans. They are surely a big part of Trump’s constituency, and that should surprise nobody.
But it is support beyond those hard-core Republican crazies that nobody expected and that is key to understanding this whirlwind so far.
I was in Seattle and Portland three months ago on vacation. I ended up talking politics with friends, friends of friends and a few strangers in two of America’s most liberal cities. Of course, many of them hated Trump. But there was a surprising amount of support from others. None of these fans were gun-totting, poor or outwardly religious. Most expressed no direct fear of either Islam or Latin Americans. Not all of them were white. Some of them were traditionally Democrat voters, and most had voted for Obama at least once.
Their support for Trump was occasionally expressed upfront but more often after a few beers and a warm up chat. Now these people won’t necessarily vote for Trump, and they know he’s crazy. Perhaps they’ve gotten off the Trump train since September as his speeches have gotten more extreme. But as of a few months ago, they wanted to see the circus roll on for a while yet. Why?
I think we get a hint in this LA Times article, which offers one of the more insightful sentences I’ve read on the Republican nomination race:
“I think he’s writing all his own stuff, ’cause it’s too off the wall for anybody to write something like that”
This came from Bruce Goacher, an Iowan who intends to vote for Trump. It is similar to what I heard a few times, even in left-leaning Oregon and Washington State.
They see a genuineness in Trump. Over the decades politicians of all stripes have become better at PR spin, avoiding unwanted questions and Teflon-coating themselves and their message. That worked, to a point. But it doesn’t take much of a BS detector to realise we are being told what politicians and their advisors and speech writers want us to hear (being whatever gets votes), not necessarily what the speaker actually thinks or feels.
Not that The Donald isn’t telling America what it wants to hear. Not that he’s not appealing to baser instincts. Not that he doesn’t lie repeatedly. But you can also see clearly that he says what he means and means what he says. There is very little dissonance between what Donald feels and what Donald says, which marks him as different from just about every career politician. You’re not gonna die wondering.
My best guess as to why Trump is getting support from people that you just wouldn’t expect to support someone so outlandish? Many voters have reached a point where they’d prefer ‘crazy but genuine’ over ‘sane but insincere’. Here’s hoping the unexpected groundswell is just a stepping stone to finding someone both genuine and sane. That may take a few more presidential cycles yet, unfortunately.
15 thoughts on “The Donald Trump Effect”
There is also a big difference between what the average person says in public and what they really think. People are very aware that any kind of ‘right wing’ expression will meet immediate social disapproval. You might find zero support for Trump at a dinner party among, say, ten people but come voting time 3 or 4 will vote for him anyway.
Very true Russell. Nate Silver’s blog wrote something on this a few weeks ago – it seems there’s a record wide margin between support for Trump based on whether the poll is a live phone discussion, or a recorded phone or internet poll. Gets at exactly your point – there’s probably more support for him than appears apparent.
On that, one friend-of-a-friend I talked to in Seattle was blowing up about Trump when we first started chatting. After half an hour of conversation he was almost talking Trump up. It’s an unusual situation indeed
This is why Trump leads the pack
I agree electorates are getting sick of the spin but if it was a “just speaking his mind, no bullshit” thing, then Bernie Sanders would be getting those so called Democrat voters.
I don’t think the ‘no bullshit’ thing is the only influence, Glenn. There’s a lot of fearful people in America keen to be pandered to, and they’re choosing Trump over others. But I do think it’s a part of why his base is so much wider than anyone would have guessed. Bernie seems to be doing alright for a socialist in America.
scott adams, who writes dilbert has been following the trump story. From very early on, when he (trump) was an outsider, he was saying Trump will give this a real shake. I think this is his first post on the topic, but he has covered it on his blog very regularly. http://blog.dilbert.com/post/126916006856/wizard-wars
His premise/theory is pretty amazing I think, that we basically have little/no free will, & Trump is exploiting this, via his use of language/hypnosis!
In a nutshell, & this is straight off a recent post
“Rather, the Master Persuader filter says people believe they like Trump for one of the reasons I mentioned, but the real reason is that he is using commercial-grade persuasion. The “reasons” people give are rationalizations of irrational decisions. That’s why you see so many reasons offered. The sheer quantity of rationalizations for why Trump is beating expectations is a tell for persuasion. That’s what I learned in hypnosis class years ago.”
It sounds like at times that scott is selling trump, but I don’t think that is the case, & he’s noted recently that his view of the anti immigration for muslim stuff fairly abhorrant.
Also, am I the only one who remembers the Warren Beatty movie Bulworth? The main character is diagnosed with a terminal disease during a campaign, so he starts being brutally honest, telling his constituents he thinks they are morons & so on. Of course, he wins in a landslide for the very reasons you are suggesting Trump is succeeding.
Pauline Hanson like?
Strikes me as a lightning rod for discontented supporters from all camps.
A bit like the Occupy movement where polar opposites got together for a ‘shared vision’ and of course couldn’t agree on anything.
If Trump gets in there would be policy gridlock. Nothing new would happen.
Flicking through the TV channels late the other night, I came across a re-run of Being There. Maybe a Chauncey Gardiner next time?
Sadly it may come down to a chilling choice: Trump or Clinton. At which point we will need to get a bit deeper than ‘Trump is nuts’
Donald Trump is a textbook psychopath. Google “Marvin Roffman” for just one example of his psychopathic behaviour.
For precedent, look at what happened after Germany elected another well-known, charismatic, sincere, candid, right-leaning psychopath as their chancellor in 1933.
A listen to the Nate Silver interview with Barry Ritholz on Bloomberg Radio podcast might give you some confidence we won’t end up with Trump for a whole bunch of reasons, including how their primary vote system works. That is, be nuts and provocative in the primaries to stand out and to get your followers to vote and then once you have the nomination go all mainstream so you get the other guys votes. Worth a listen for political junkies but Ritholz is close to the most annoying interviewer you will find.
As a worthwhile follow-on from Scot’s comment, I recommend last week’s edition of Slate’s Political Gabfest which elaborates on that point: The “Is He Mussolini or Hitler?” Edition.
Unfortunately as most countries are tied economically in some way to the USA, it will be a disaster for the world if this psychopathic moron is elected.
Trump’s support is still only a small portion of the total American electorate.
For all those hyperventilating about Trump Christopher Caldwell (former Weekend FT columnist) has easily the best analysis I have read.