If the current state of politics in the U.S. facilitates a candidacy like Donald Trump’s, that does not explain his popularity. It may be worth noting that although he leads in most polls at this time, he is not the first choice of a majority, and it is possible that he is not the second, third, or fourth choice of enough for him to actually get the Republican nomination. Still, at this point it seems entirely possible that he will be nominated. So why is he as popular as he is?
I think the answer is desperation. For decades the federal government has imposed rules and policies which were against the will of a large portion, in many cases a majority, of the American people — from abortion on demand to same sex marriage (with small business owners being persecuted by vindictive and intolerant same sex couples). Small businesses and local governments chafe under the requirements of the federal bureaucracy. The federal government seeks to control local education. Fishermen are put out of business. The provision of health care has been federalized. It seems that the constitutional principles of limited government and enumerated powers are completely disregarded. Various segments of society have various complaints. The “wars” on drugs and crime have visibly failed. Meanwhile, in areas which are truly its responsibility, such as immigration policy, properly funding Social Security, and foreign policy, the federal government cannot or does not act effectively.
For decades, Republicans have nominated mostly center-right (“moderate”) candidates for President. Whether they won or lost, whether Republicans controlled any houses of Congress, the federal juggernaut rolled on, and the festering problems continued to fester. Meanwhile, the mantra of the populist Democrats, that the plutocrats control the government has begun to ring true. The result is that large numbers of people are “mad as hell and not going to take it any more.” It is ironic that they are supporting one of the plutocrats, one whose credentials as a Republican — much less a conservative — are highly questionable, but they have given up on government as usual, and he seems the candidate most likely to put an end to government as usual. The issues on which he is most vociferous, immigration and terrorism, are ones where his simplistic positions are just what many Republicans want to hear, and that’s sufficient to attenuate any interest in other areas.
Intransigence and extreme partisanship, it seems to me, have been largely responsible for creating the conditions which make Donald Trump’s candidacy popular with so many. Republicans and Democrats alike have been more interested in wining the next election than anything else. They have demonized presidents of the other party; they have routinely refused to seek consensus, preferring to try to make the other party appear extreme. In other words, his candidacy is the result of the actions of those in power. Paradoxically, the Tea Partiers are opposed to compromise and accuse other Republicans of being RINO’s, but if the partisan gridlock had been broken and compromise reached on a number of real problems, the Tea Party might not have been as popular, and Trump might not have emerged as their favorite.. Goldwater and Reagan were nominated because a majority of the party didn’t want “more of the same.” Trump’s supporters are similarly unwilling to have more of the same in Washington.
Will it be possible to stop Donald Trump? If Republicans who support other candidates don’t regard him as their second or third choice; if other candidates don’t drop out too soon; if Trump supporters begin to realize that his rhetoric is empty and simplistic, maybe he’ll be stopped. But if several second-tier candidates drop out and a high percentage of their followers go to Trump, there could be a bandwagon effect. Let’s hope his supporters become disillusioned before he swamps his opposition and becomes inevitable.