Trump-eting his own message

Trump-eting his own message

Pundits have pondered Mr Donald Trump's survival for months, but support for the Republican presidential front runner spikes each time he delivers a divisive piece of rhetoric.

Last Monday, he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on", prompting condemnation from world leaders, the Muslim community and even members of his own Republican party.

The statement came after the San Bernardino shooting on Dec 2 , during which a radicalised couple - Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik - killed 14 people and injured 22 at a Christmas party.

In a tweet late on Friday, Saudi billionaire and moderate Muslim Prince Alwaleed bin Talal called Mr Trump a disgrace to the US and demanded that he pull out of the race.

"Dopey Prince @Alwaleed-Talal wants to control our US politicians with daddy's money," the US tycoon responded in a tweet. "Can't do it when I get elected."

The comments were part of a diatribe against a revolving cast of people or things Mr Trump loves to hate, which include undocumented immigrants and fellow GOP candidates. He has called Mexicans "rapists", supported a registry for Muslims here, and insisted that "thousands" of people in New Jersey were cheering the 9/11 attacks.

But for all the sound and fury coming out of this man, there may be some method in his madness.

Experts have said Mr Trump's base is largely white, of a lower socio-economic status and less educated than average, and that is where his comments are hitting home.

"Primarily, he is targeting those groups who feel they have been left behind by changes in the economy and in the culture... Their jobs are not secure and they are looking for solutions. Trump, and others, offer what appear to be easy solutions," said Professor Jeffrey Hill, chair of the political science department at Northeastern Illinois University.

And it does seem to be working.

The latest poll by New York Times/CBS News conducted from Dec 4 to 8 shows that Mr Trump commands the support of 35 per cent of Republican primary voters, ahead of Texas Senator Ted Cruz (16 per cent) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (13 per cent).

His insults, assertions, and controversial plans have come in quick succession, giving the media barely enough time to recover from the last salvo, constantly keeping Mr Trump in the news cycle, while others struggle to be heard. "He is a master of 'earned media'," said Dr Timothy McCarthy, public policy lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School, "which means that he doesn't have to pay for advertising time because he makes the news."

His antics have also caused consternation among his own party members. While the GOP may disagree with many of his plans, it does not wish to alienate Republican voters, of whom a sizeable number seem to support Mr Trump's ban idea.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released on Thursday finds that 66 per cent of likely Republican voters favour the idea of a temporary ban on Muslims, while 24 per cent are opposed and 10 per cent are undecided.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus has always been wary that Mr Trump might go rogue and break off as an independent candidate, but on Tuesday, he told the Washington Examiner he did not agree with Mr Trump's comments.

"We need to aggressively take on radical Islamic terrorism but not at the expense of our American values," said Mr Priebus, who reportedly told Mr Trump to tone down his comments on Mexican immigrants, after he referred to them as rapists.

"The worst outcome for the Republican party is if Trump loses the nomination and runs as a candidate of his own party," said Prof Hill. "There have been a number of third- party candidates in US history... They still lose, but the candidate from their former party also loses."

While lambasting everyone on his path to the White House may get him some support now, not everyone is convinced that it will translate to votes.

"We also need to remember that his support is weaker than we think: only one-quarter to one-third of likely (not committed) Republican voters say they might (not will) vote for him," said Dr McCarthy.

And even if he were to plough through to the general election, it is highly unlikely he would have the vote of minorities in the country, or convincingly toe a more moderate line needed to win the election.

According to political website Real Clear Politics (RCP), Mr Trump is the least likely of the top Republican candidates to beat Mrs Hillary Clinton. The RCP match-up of the two shows she would win 47 per cent of the votes, while he would get 43.7 per cent.

"More people vote in the presidential election than in the presidential primaries. This larger group will not be as conservative as the smaller group of primary voters, and they will not find his style or his statements as appealing," said Prof Hill.

"Trump would need to change a lot... He has been loud and over the top for years. A quiet, moderate Trump would not be believable."

That said, just the thought of Mr Trump even inching towards the White House is worrying to many Americans.

"He needs to deploy hateful rhetoric in order to energise fear, anxiety, and prejudice to build his 'base' so he can become electable. That it's so easy for him to do this is terrifying to many of us," said Dr McCarthy.

This article was first published on December 13, 2015.
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