Many political observers were surprised by the success of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. This is an instance of the proverbial "chickens coming home to roost." Republican politicians have grown fond of telling their constituents, "You can't trust Washington." This paved the way for Trump, the ultimate outsider.
It's been 16 years since George W. Bush announced he was running for president. At the time, few liberals took "Dubya," another outsider, seriously. There's a parallel between Bush and Donald Trump. Since Trump announced his candidacy, many liberals have written him off. That's a mistake.
When George W. Bush entered the 2000 presidential race, the frontrunner was John McCain. Many political observers thought McCain would trounce Dubya, because Bush was a lightweight with few political credentials. We were wrong because we didn't know about Karl Rove and, therefore, underestimated the Bush campaign.
When Donald Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, the frontrunner was Jeb Bush. Many political observers thought Bush would trounce "the Donald," because Trump was a political neophyte. We were wrong because we underestimated how media savvy Trump is (and how feckless Jeb can be).
In 2000, Bush prevailed because he was able to portray himself as an "outsider" who could "fix" Washington -- "I'm a uniter not a divider." Now it's Trump who is the outsider.
In Trump's favor is the fact that voters don't trust Washington. A recent CNN poll found that 68 percent of respondents did not feel "the government in Washington represents the views of people like yourself." "That figure spikes among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. Among GOP voters, 53% say they don't feel their views are well represented in Washington at all."
The CNN poll observed, "Republican voters who say their views are not represented at all by the government in Washington are far more likely than other Republicans to back Trump's run for the White House." Writing in Newsweek, libertarian Jeffry Tucker observed that Trump has absorbed into "his own political ambitions every conceivable resentment (race, class, sex, religion, economic) and [promises] a new order of things under his mighty hand."
For Trump to win the Republican presidential nomination, he will have to appeal to the disparate wings of the GOP. 2014's Pew Research political typology identified three distinct sets of Republican voters. The first is "steadfast conservatives... very conservative attitudes across most issues, including social policy and the size and scope of government." This group comprises 15 percent of registered voters.
Trump appears to be conservative on most social issues; he's pro-life and supports traditional marriage. His views on immigration, deport all undocumented immigrants, are strongly supported by steadfast conservatives.
The second set of Republican voters is "business conservatives... traditional small-government Republicans." They comprise 12 percent of registered voters.
Trump's business pedigree is likely to appeal to this wing of the GOP. So will his 5-point tax plan that includes repealing estate and corporate taxes, as well as lowering individual, capital gains, and dividend taxes.
The conservative media is split on Trump. Fox News loves him. The Wall Street Journal doesn't. Writing about Trump in a WSJ op-ed, Peggy Noonan harrumphed, "Sometimes an ill wind feels like a breath of fresh air... Mr. Trump is not a serious man, which is part of his appeal in a country that has grown increasingly unserious. He's a showman..."
The third set of Republican voters is "Young Outsiders... [who] express unfavorable opinions of both major parties. They are skeptical of activist government; a substantial majority views government as wasteful and inefficient." They comprise 15 percent of registered voters.
It's tempting to describe this group as libertarian but Pew observes that they display "strong support for the environment." If that's true then they are unlikely to support Trump who famously called global climate change "a hoax."
In 2000, George W. Bush easily won the Republican nomination because he held the two key GOP segments: steadfast conservatives and business conservatives. In the 2000 presidential election, Dubya easily won the evangelical vote and that of the wealthiest Americans.
What remains to be seen about Donald Trump is whether or not he can hold the vote of evangelicals. Pundits aren't sure. Religious writer Sarah Posner cites Trumps "revolving-door marriages and past support for abortion" as some of the reason why evangelicals are lukewarm on the Donald. On the other hand, religious writerDavid Brody gushes, "They like [Trump's] boldness."
Of more critical concern to the Trump campaign is his persistent unfavorability ratings. The political website 538 notes that in terms of "net favorability ratings," Trump is ranked 13th among likely Republican Iowa/New Hampshire voters. (Among all voters, Trump's favorability ratings are strongly negative: 59 percent of voters views him unfavorably versus 27 percent who have a favorable opinion.)
Nonetheless, Trump will be around for a while. And it's clear that Donald Trump is the candidate Republicans deserve.