Politics as a reality show - The rise of Trump | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 28, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 28, 2016

Politics as a reality show - The rise of Trump

Donald Trump, the US real estate tycoon-turned-presidential candidate, topped himself not so long ago - no mean achievement - by outraging the entire world with his demand to ban the entry of Muslims into the US.

Trump's rise in US politics is a symptom of a profound change in the Republican Party. America is going through a political crisis. Congress cannot pass laws, the majority Republicans in the House struggle with bitter internal dissent. The rise of a shrill right-wing media and polarised constituencies have put the Republican Party in an ideological straitjacket, making it impossible for it to make the deals necessary to keep the wheels of government running.

As the world's only remaining superpower, what happens in US governance and politics has global implications. 

As primaries to select the Republican and Democratic nominees loom, the turbulent political dynamics in the Republican presidential campaign has the party establishment aghast and political analysts scratching their heads. 

Iowa will hold its primary on February 1, and New Hampshire on February 9, and Trump, who has a solid lead in national polls of Republicans has never held – or run for – elected office. Consider, for a moment, the Republican presidential candidates who were leading until quite recently. Donald Trump, a real-estate tycoon and media star; Ben Carson, a paediatric neurosurgeon; and Carly Fiorina, former CEO of computer giant Hewlett Packard - have between them zero experience in any kind of elected office. Fiorina alone has some experience running for office - she made a failed bid to become a US senator in California. 

Yet not too long ago, together they had support of over half of Republicans surveyed by pollsters until Carson and Fiorina faded away. 

Republican presidential politics has been turned on its head.

Traditionally candidates with political and governing experience attract the support of Republican voters and the establishment. Donors with deep pockets help. By these standards, two candidates ought to have been formidable candidates: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. 

Walker, a sitting, two-term governor of Wisconsin, became a darling of Conservatives after he clamped down on organised labour and prevailed in a bitter recall campaign.

Yet his made an unceremonious exit.

Jeb Bush, a former two-term governor, was another darling of the Republican establishment and deep-pocketed donors. Yet his support is stuck in the low single digits in polls. Despite tens of millions of advertising dollars, his poll numbers have sunk like a lead balloon. What has happened? 

To be sure, a candidate has to win over the voting public, and it must be said that both Walker and Bush have been underwhelming, or to use Trump's cruel phrase, “low energy.”

But there is a deeper political reason for Bush and Walker's failure. The Republican Party base is angry, frustrated and in despair. White non-college Republicans have lost faith in the American economic system and Republican politicians. Economically, culturally and socially, white non-college Republicans are feeling their world slipping away. It is this sense of impending doom that Trump has tapped so well. 

In a recent CNN/ORC national poll, Trump attracted a stunning 46 percent of non-college Republicans, nearly four times his closest competitor (US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas at 12 percent). Yet among college-educated Republicans, Trump placed fourth with just 18 percent, slightly behind Cruz, US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Carson.

It is no accident that his first salvo was against illegal immigration. His bizarre proposal for building a wall with Mexico and referring to immigrants from Mexico as rapists may fly in the face of facts, but it resonates deeply with insecure white non-college Republicans.

Trump has a lot going for him. In addition to an uncanny sense of the outrage of his supporters, he is also the perfect candidate for the modern US media age where the line between entertainment and news can get blurred. The media can't get enough of him because he is such a ratings magnet. So he gets free media through constant broadcast interviews and by participating in huge rallies of boisterous, adoring crowds. He throws in provocative tweets for good measure.

Recent polls suggest some return to sanity. Trump still rules, but two US senators have gained in polls – Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. But even this is deceptive, because Cruz is running as an anti-establishment candidate. He is universally reviled by his fellow Republicans in the Senate for his extreme rhetoric and tactics – he once called the Republican Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky a liar, and supported a shutdown of the US government.

The Republican Party movers and shakers are getting really nervous. The reason is simple. As the astute Republican President Richard Nixon once observed, the way to the U.S. presidency for a Republican candidate involves a tortuous political dance –a shift to the right in the primary to win the party's nomination, then a shift to the centre to win the general election.

Trump is making this increasingly difficult. His provocative rhetoric has moved the entire political thrust of the Republican Party to the right. This could spell disaster in the general presidential elections for the GOP – the Grand Old Party, as the Republican Party is colloquially known. Party bigwigs fear anti-establishment delegates could choose the nominee in the Republican Convention.

“The political views of anti-establishment GOP voters and candidates are dramatically out of touch with mainstream America. A runaway convention taken over by anti-establishment delegates would create high odds of a dramatic Election Day victory by (putative Democratic candidate) Hillary Clinton large enough to return control of the Senate, and potentially the House, to Democrats,” Brent Budowsky writes in the U.S. political website “The Hill.”

The writer has been a writer and editor for over 25 years for India-West, a weekly newspaper, based in California, USA. He has won multiple journalism awards from the New York-based South Asia Journalism Association and the San Francisco-based New America media.

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