When Mark Twain wrote in 1887 that “all you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure,” little did he know that it would come to define the new rising stardom of the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
Trump’s ignorance, hypocritical record and contrived outrage – whether the subject is a disabled reporter or a Starbucks cup or millions of Latinos and Muslims – have become the key to his success as a Republican candidate. This success, if sustained and backed by an organizational ground game in the states that start voting on February 1st, can conceivably carry Trump to the nomination and unleash the nightmare scenario for the Republican Party.
Trump: Master manipulator
Trump’s latest outburst, calling to ban all Muslims from entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” is a perfect example of his political expediency, and manufactured Islamophobia to manipulate the Republican base and attract media coverage.
Trump’s prejudiced tone will only escalate against Muslims. His bet is to dominate the media coverage ahead, and eventually attempt to force himself as a fait accompli on the Republican establishment.Joyce Karam
For starters, the biggest joke in Trump’s candidacy is his Republican record. The real estate mogul jumped ships at least four times between the Democrats and Republicans in the last three decades, and his voting record and donations raise doubts about his newly found conservatism. He reportedly veered towards an anti-gun, pro-abortion stance – before running on a pro-gun and anti-abortion platform. His votes and money trail suggest affinity to Democrats in New York – including his new rival Hillary Clinton, whom he invited to his wedding.
Trumpism is less about a political ideology and more about a Machiavellian approach to win by any means and at any price. Hence, while Trump would not waste a chance to speak against Muslims or any community in order to win votes, his own business is booming in Muslim countries and is winning him deals. From Turkey, to Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia the candidate is negotiating building gigantic hotels, golf courses and fashion design stores – with the same Muslims whom he claims are a risk to U.S. national security.
Trump’s attacks spare no one – including individuals such as the Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, an African-American activist, the face and the hair of his running mates – and on a larger scale a whole ethnicity or religious minority. The key is to pick the media’s and the base flavor of the day; if it’s anti-immigration, Trump would attack Hispanics, and if it’s ISIS, the target would shift to the Syrian refugees and/or the Muslim community.
Can Trump win?
Trump winning the Republican nomination in 2016 would the equivalent of Republican voters shooting holes in their own boat and sinking their chances at winning the general elections, potentially against Hillary Clinton. However, this outcome is not unexpected given Trump’s lead in the early swing states, the mood of the Republican base, and his edge in utilizing social media and television coverage.
Despite the Republican establishment condemnations and rejection of Trump’s remarks against Muslims, the candidate’s backing is showing signs of resilience with more than a third of his supporters saying “it makes them more likely to vote for him” according to a poll by Purple Strategies. This detachment between the Republican leadership and its voters is at the heart of Trump’s surge, and could win him the nomination next spring. While the disenchantment of the Republican base did not start with Trump, and has its roots in failure of the party’s majority to deliver since 1996, the candidate draws most of his support from this sentiment.
Trump is seen by his backers as an outsider and a successful businessman who is challenging the traditional establishment, and is not tied to Washington’s stagnated political environment and lobby groups. His political incompetence and confused statements on foreign policy are overshadowed with his personality appeal, and the desire for dramatic change from the party’s own base. These attributes give Trump today an average of +13.8% in the polls, and an edge in all the early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida) seven weeks ahead of the vote.
While the Trump bubble might very well burst and cost him the elections – as was the case with Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani before – it has so far sustained itself longer than previous favorites. The absence of a charismatic outsider in the Republican running field also plays to Trump’s advantage. Former governor Jeb Bush has failed so far to connect with the average voter, while Senator Marco Rubio is a Washington figure whose rise is similar to U.S. President Barack Obama.
In the coming weeks, Trump’s prejudiced tone will only escalate against Muslims and any minority or issue viewed suspiciously by the Republican base. His bet is to dominate the media coverage and living-room conversation ahead of the voting day, and eventually attempt to force himself as a fait accompli on the Republican establishment.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam
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