The Trump Complex: How he won

Photo: Noopy420 Wikimedia Commons

Samuel King investigates Trump’s surprising success in the 2016 American election.

President-elect Donald Trump won the 2016 race to the American presidency beating his rival Secretary Clinton, a shock to the academics and the polls, as he was the inexperienced and extremely unlikely candidate to win the presidency. The reason for his success lies in the statement, ‘the American people want an entertainer-in-chief’. Trump used rhetoric and bold and occasionally racist statements to stir up support.

I love this countryDonald Trump

Donald Trump lead a strong and unconventional campaign against his rival, Secretary Clinton. He proved to be a remarkably able candidate, demonstrating an understanding of the role of social media in modern election campaigns. Trump’s intelligence and knowledge of the world of social media and TV entertainment gave him a major advantage during the Republican presidential primaries, and the general election campaign. Both in the state primary appearances and during the televised debates he exploited his understanding of media in the modern age, with effective one-liners and wicked characterisations. Willing to describe groups other than whites in offensive language – Mexicans as criminals for instance – gave Trump massive support in the contest. In the primaries, Trump was massively ahead of his party rivals such as Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.

Despite fluctuating at various points, Trump’s consistent themes of uncontrolled immigration, free trade harms to manufacturing, reduced tax rates and job creation kept him afloat as a plausible candidate amongst his core constituency – high school whites without a college degree (67%), and income earners between $50-100k (50%) and over $100k (48%). Trump’s slogans like ‘make America great again’ and ‘take back America’, a coded racial message, gave him appeal to his supporters. These policies together with an aggressive international policy demanding NATO members and other allies fund more of their own defence, enabled Trump to sail through the major controversies generated by declining to release his tax returns and his xenophobia and misogyny.

When Mexico sends its people…they’re rapistsDonald Trump

Above all, Trump knows how to use the media in a way which none of his rivals do, including Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He understood the three national presidential debates to be as much about entertainment as policy discussion, and that to sit meekly while his opponent declaimed her policies did not win viewers. Instead he interrupted, rudely and sometimes forcefully, and drew attention to himself.

Although much has been made of Trump’s appeal to voters who had not previously voted, in fact his electoral support base was mostly made up of standard Republican supporters. He did manage to get more of them to vote than in 2008 or 2012.

Trump won 58% of white voters and a mere 8% of African Americans. His endorsement by extremist racist groups did not harm his popularity with this large pool of white voters, male (53%) or female (42%). He won a mere extra two points of Latino voters (29%) than Romney in 2012 but in some states, notably Florida, this support was helpful. Trump also had exceptional support amongst highly conservative religious voters. Evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump and turned out in large numbers. Trump’s opposition to abortion policy appealed to evangelicals despite the fact that he has been married three times and had expressed highly misogynistic views during the election campaign.

Hillary Clinton proved to be a weak nominee for the Democratic Party. First, as the wife of Bill Clinton, president between 1992 and 2000, some voters associated her with that period. President Clinton was impeached and Hillary Clinton failed to get his health care plans enacted. As Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton took many criticisms for US weakness especially in Middle Eastern countries such as Libya and Syria. She was interrogated before a congressional committee about the death of US diplomats at the American embassy in Benghazi.

I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened (to ISIS)Donald Trump

Mrs Clinton’s secret style of governance was heavily criticized during the campaign as it became public that she kept a separate email server during her time at the State Department. Some classified emails were inappropriately transferred to her private email server. This issue took on huge political significance during the last ten days of the presidential campaign when the Director of the FBI, James Comey announced the Bureau was investigating another quarter of million discovered emails. This charge damaged her reputation. The Clinton Foundation set up by her and Bill and Clinton in 2000 and run by their daughter, Chelsea, was criticized for receiving donations from this seeking political influence and not just to do charitable good.

Mrs Clinton was deeply unpopular with many Democrats, some of whom didn’t turn out to vote or voted for Mr Trump. Her weakness as a candidate aided Trump’s unexpected success dramatically.