Donald Trump got another big win in Arizona, and is clearly the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. How the hell is this happening?
In the last six months I’ve encountered a dozen or more people who have said, in some form, that they’re planning to vote or have voted for Donald Trump. Perhaps my skepticism of Trump has led others to be quieter about it, but I have met many people of all backgrounds, ages, political interest levels who support Trump. And the Trump voters I’ve encountered fall into two very distinct camps: there are those that are voting for him based on fraudulent reasons and those, I believe, who have identified a legitimate problem and assigned their solution to Trump.
Let’s start with the first. Anyone who votes for Donald Trump for one or multiple of these reasons is doing so on fraudulent grounds: because of his plan to build a big beautiful wall (that Mexico will pay for), his plan to pause all Muslims from entering the U.S., his promise to tax China. Basically, if you are voting for Donald Trump because of what he says he’ll do when he becomes president, you should rethink your decision. These are the same sort of empty promises that many other politicians have made before — perhaps in a less colorful and convincing way. But make no mistake, Donald Trump is using these arguments to make a sale. They should not be considered positions that he is even planning to actually implement should he become president. They are pure fantasy.
I’ve written in the past about his 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal and how the book can be used to explain in some ways this Trump phenomenon — his overall success, and the psychology of Donald Trump and why people support him. There’s an anecdote that continues as a throughline throughout the entire book about his plans to convince NBC Studios to move from 30 Rockefeller Center over to the Upper West Side of New York City, an area he had bought along the West Side Highway. Trump was planning to develop it into what he was calling “Television City.”
It’s clear throughout the entire book, which he was writing in real-time in 1986 and 1987, Trump is under the assumption that the great happy ending at the end of The Art of the Deal will be that he gets NBC to more their studies and become the marquee centerpiece of his “Television City” — sort of like the NYC version of Studio City in Los Angeles. It’s a foregone conclusion for Trump — it’s happening. Toward the end he makes the point that even if he doesn’t get NBC to move — which he makes clear would be a smart move for them — but even if they don’t, he’ll still make “Television City” and have other tenants there to take their place.
As it turns out, NBC decided to stay at 30 Rock, a fact that Trump does allude to in the afterward of his book. This decision, in the end, if you’re familiar with New York City, signaled the end of “Television City” as well. There are no TV studios along the West Side Highway. There is a development of condos known as Riverside South (or Trump Place), and some parks. The entire plan disintegrated.
Building the wall, taxing China, the Muslim pause…all of that is the “Television City” of Trump’s politics. It’s hyperbole, it’s wishful thinking, it’s a starting point to a negotiation at best. They are not real. They are just what Trump says to try to convince people that what he has going on is bigger and better and more hopeful and more successful than it really is.
So that’s the first category — the bad reasons to vote for Trump. But there is a second category of voters who have a problem with the system. Many people in this country are angry. They’re scared. They are disappointed with the way things have been going. This is something happening, and getting worse, on both sides of the aisle, with all age groups, all races, genders, sexual orientations. This is a systemic, ingrained problem.
Whether Donald Trump has the right solution is debatable. I, and others, would argue, he has no solution to the problem he has successfully identified. But it’s a very real problem.
I talked to someone recently who said he’s planning on voting for Trump because he feels, by doing so, he can kill two birds with one stone — he can “piss off the Democrats and the Republicans with one vote.” I don’t think this is an isolated viewpoint. Some people believe that by voting for Donald Trump, by making him the GOP nominee and potentially making him the President of the United States, it would send such a shockwave through the system that significant change would be inevitable. Good change? Bad change? Who cares. Change would occur.
Whether these voters believe that Donald Trump himself is the guy who’s going to Make America Great Again — or whether it’ll be the person who comes next — is up for debate. Trump is the wrecking ball, and Washington D.C. is the building. He’s not the architect, he’s not the construction workers. These voters believe the system needs a wrecking ball — the building must be taken down before it can be rebuilt. They believe incremental change, surface change — repainting the walls, or changing the light fixtures — will do nothing. They believe there are structural problems with the building, and the only solution is to knock the damn thing down. Donald Trump will do that. He’ll be the wrecking ball.
Now, there are smart people, like Erick, who would say Trump is actually more likely than others running on the GOP side — namely Ted Cruz — to play within the system. To get to Washington and make deals that are typical of Washington. That certainly could be. But I’d argue that the election of Donald Trump itself would light such a fire under the asses of Democrats and Republicans, under the asses of the media, it would be such a perception-changing moment in American life, that there would be legitimate change and upheaval. If Trump is elected President on November 8, 2016, there would instantly be B.D.T (Before Donald Trump) and A.D.T. (After Donald Trump) and 11/8/16 would be 0 ADT.
For many in this country, that’s an exciting proposition. That is something valuable, even if Donald Trump himself is a ridiculous showman who says stupid, offensive things. He is doing it in a way that is a disruption to the status quo. In something that makes almost no sense to anyone who is a political observer, some voters say their top two choices for president are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. A lot of what people vote on for president is not policy. It’s something else, something greater — maybe it’s a protest vote, or a vote about perception or about change. Sometimes people vote to show how great America is — a vote for Barack Obama in 2008 said something about America. Look what we can do. Look how far we’ve come. It’s exciting and meaningful. There’s something meaningful with Donald Trump to many people, in a different, perhaps inverse way from Obama in ‘08. Eight years later, there are people who feel that they are speaking a completely different language, that there are such completely divergent priorities and beliefs in the mainstream, and I believe it’s making some people go a little crazy.
I see it with climate change. I see it with gun rights. I see it with abortion. I see it with political correctness. (It’s not there with gay marriage or immigration or the economy.) With certain issues, there is such a tremendous gulf between the two sides that there’s this perception that we have fundamentally lost our way.
Donald Trump is that antidote for many people. And that’s why I think people who are underestimating Donald Trump in the general election should not think he’s going to turn into this moderate, and embrace his inner New York liberal (although he might). I think the bigger appeal to Trump as a general election candidate for some voters is that if he faces Hillary Clinton, Trump will feel like change and Hillary will feel like status quo. You could say it’s 2008 all over again — Barack Obama was change, and John McCain was status quo.
In the end many Obama voters are disappointed — he hasn’t changed the tone in Washington, he certainly isn’t presiding over the most transparent administration ever. He has accomplished some agenda items — immigration, Obamacare. But he has not fundamentally brought about change, and he has not brought the country together. In fact, America may be more divided than when he entered office.
Will Trump bring people together? No, that’s highly unlikely. But he feels like change.
I sympathize with people on both sides who are political true believers — who think of it beyond the game of politics. People who have a vested interest in legislation, and policy and governance. Ben Sasse and Paul Ryan and Gavin Newsom and Cory Booker. There are serious people who have serious policy differences and want to accomplish things though traditional means. For many people, politics doesn’t feel like a game. It feels like a greater calling. And Trump is the antithesis of that. He is not about policy. He is not about legislation or governance or seriousness.
But he is a wrecking ball. And when people have gone to vote so far over these past two months, they have voted for the wrecking ball in enormous numbers. We are seeing a vastly imperfect solution to a very legitimate problem.
I hope we don’t find out what would happen under a Trump wrecking ball presidency. But I don’t think it’s so far-fetched that we will.
(Image source: http://monumentwealthmanagement.com/weekly-market-commentary/trump-and-the-market-wrecking-ball/)