On June 16, 2015 Donald Trump officially announced his presidential candidacy. Since then, I don't believe a day has gone by when he hasn't been featured in an article of a national publication if not a segment of a national broadcast. Many people have derided him as a narcissist, a racist, a joke of a candidate gone on too long. Despite this, he is far and beyond the leading Republican candidate having recently attained over 30 percent support according to a CNN poll.
How does a man who has never held political office consistently lead the Republican polls? What convergence of factors has led to this phenomenon? Well for one, he is without question the candidate enjoying the most media coverage. Everyone, even those with no political inclinations whatsoever, must know he's running. The same can't be said for any of the other Republican candidates. No matter how much his opponents may be inclined to dismiss him, he has proven himself not just a bother but a force to be reckoned with. It makes sense. Trump was a very public figure before his candidacy and in a nation obsessed with celebrity this has only served to benefit him. His candidacy itself is unfolding in the manner of a reality show, enthralling in its unpredictability. But you would hope the presidential election is more than a mere popularity contest.
If publicity alone isn't the determining factor of success, his views must be resonating with a rather large contingent of voters. My own belief is that Trump's style of delivery contributes to his success as much as the content of his message. Donald Trump is the antithesis of the politician, his ideologies and methods stand in defiance of the political correctness and sensitivity that have permeated seemingly every aspect of public and private American life. To some, Trump represents a reversion to a better time or at least a more open honest discourse.
In recent years we have come to prioritize how words make people feel more so than the merit of what was said. The mitigation of one's speech is no longer a matter of preference for most public figures. Should someone say something on camera that can even be perceived as offensive they can face serious repercussions. Comments that would have only caused slight stirs in years past now warrant suspensions or even termination from one's job. It is simply the culture.
Conor Friedersdorf writes of this culture in a recent article for the Atlantic. People seem so eager to become offended these days in some sort of retroactive, vindictive spouting of righteous indignation. The result is the public dragging through the coals of anyone accused of a microaggression or insensitivity. Victimhood has become a source a power. Invoke the words "offended" or "disgusted" and all of a sudden you and your argument are now impervious, exempt from rational criticism. Incurring the wrath of the "socially aware", even accidentally, can have humiliating and possibly long lasting detrimental effects...unless you're Donald Trump. Yes, Donald Trump, essentially untouchable, is the obvious champion of choice for those who feel they've been disenfranchised by recent social developments.
Among his supporters are people who hold genuinely deplorable views: racists, bigots and haters of all kinds. But also among his supporters are those who desire a return to free speech and relief from the hostile environment that political correctness has ironically created. Even those who don't support him politically understand his appeal; take Bryan Cranston who described Trump's behavior as "refreshing."
It's not that people don't become angry with Trump, it's that he can literally afford not to care. Univision and NBC successively cut ties with Trump in the wake of one of his first and perhaps most inflammatory statements of his candidacy in which he voiced his thoughts on immigration. For most anyone else, to lose such partnerships and the revenue derived thereof would have been a crushing blow. Trump, however, was not fazed. He proceeded to issue a statement in which he affirmed his previous remarks and threw the gauntlet down at the feet of one of the most powerful media corporations in the country. In spite of backlash most would fold to, Trump has stood unwaveringly by nearly everything he has said.
There are many, as his contenders must have discovered by now, who value a candidate who unapologetically owns his word. No matter what you think of his political beliefs, few can deny that who we are witnessing is the genuine Donald Trump. In a time when rational self-interest requires the mincing of words and tempering of ideas, Trump has made abundantly clear that he does not abide by quite the same rules as the rest of us. With billions of dollars he can afford to stand proudly in defiance. Those who are not so well financially endowed perhaps perceive Trump as possessing the freedom they wish they could have.
All of these things, included with Trump's steadfast devotion to having America win again (at what exactly, I couldn't tell you), have broadened his appeal to sensational scope. He is the monster political correctness created but is struggling to defeat. I don't support him but I am consistently intrigued and perhaps that is all he has ever wanted.