The Magic of Trump
One of the things that constantly seems to puzzle political types is Donald Trump’s strength among the Republican electorate. Consider these recent polls:
- While no politician in the nation enjoys a positive approval rating, Ron DeSantis leads the pack with a 43% rating and a +1.4% over his negatives. Trump is at 38.7 and -16.7, respectively.
- In head-to-head matchups, DeSantis beats Joe Biden by 6 points, while Trump and Biden are virtually tied.
- 73% of Americans say the country needs younger leadership. 71% think there should be an “age cap” of 70. Trump would be 78 if he won the presidency. Biden would be 82. DeSantis would only be 46.
- Yet in state head-to-head matchups, Trump beats DeSantis by anywhere from 3 to 40 points. Even in Florida, where DeSantis is arguably the nation’s most successful governor, he only holds a 4 point advantage.
So, what gives? Republicans would seem to want to win. They almost universally loathe Biden and his administration. They bemoan the leftward lurch the country is taking on everything from transgenderism to education. Yet in survey after survey, Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination. He doesn’t win in a squeaker, he wins in a landslide, capturing virtually every state in which we have polling data and most of those by double-digits. When you add in the already also-rans (Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Asa Hutchinson, and Vivek Ramaswamy), his lead only increases as they pull 2-3x as many from DeSantis as they do Trump.
This is the puzzle that bedevils so many in our political commentariat. Trump is remarkably unpopular among everyone except self-identified Republicans. They remember the way his administration seemed as lost as everyone else in Washington during Covid. They watched in horror as his administration imploded after the 2020 election. They remember the deranged midnight tweets. So if Republicans want to win so badly, why do they cling to Trump like cat hair to a black suit?*
The problem has to do with what Washington expects from politicians. Often, they’re correct in that candidates should have a record of successful governance. They should be calm under fire. They should have consistent policies that poll well. Above all, they should be likable.
Whatever Donald Trump may be, he certainly isn’t any of those things.
What Donald Trump does have is the same thing that propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House 42 years ago. He is an avatar for change. The reason he doesn’t share the same popularity as Reagan did (and remember, Reagan wasn’t a terribly popular politician in 1979) is that unlike in 1980, half the country is just fine with the way things are going. Yes, polling consistently shows less than 30% of the country is happy with the way things are going. Yet that number is misleading. Of the 70%+ that want things to change, about half want the country to tilt further to the left. Those remaining 35% or so who want a return to the right are firmly in the GOP camp. And those voters are overwhelmingly saying they want Donald Trump as their candidate.
So why is any Ivy League educated, thrice bankrupt billionaire seen as an avatar for change and not the younger, more accomplished challenger, Ron DeSantis? It’s largely because the public is very aware of Donald Trump’s past. They love the unfiltered language, the stream-of-consciousness outbursts, and the devil-may-care attitude. They may not like the history of peccadilloes and unsavory characters that have been in his orbit for two generations. But all of those things – the controversies, the divorces, the affairs, the Don Kings and mobsters, point to what is appealing to his supporters. He is not “just another politician,” even though he’s been involved in politics for almost 60 years. He is still the anti-politician.
If you’re upset with decades of “the process” giving you nothing but a perceived middle finger, then you want someone willing to give a middle finger to the process. THAT is Donald Trump, and that is the Trump magic. What the nattering nabobs of Capitol Hill still fail to grasp is that there are millions of Americans who are frankly beyond upset at the political system, who want to simply tell their government that they’ve had it, who want to give them a middle finger. A big, orange middle finger, in this case.
*if you own a cat and a black suit, you get the analogy. If not, you need to get a cat. Or a black suit. Or both.
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