Blogs > Steve Hochstadt > The Meaning of Donald Trump

Jul 25, 2015

The Meaning of Donald Trump

Steve Hochstadt is a writer and a professor of history at Illinois College. 

At this moment in the long-distance race of the Republican nomination for President, the leader is Donald Trump. Leading the pack at this point doesn’t require much support, because there are so many candidates. In the most recent polls, taken by USA Today and by FOX News, Trump leads with only 17-18%, among 15 men and Carly Fiorina. Scott Walker (15%) and Jeb Bush (14%) also scored in double digits. Trump’s share has quadrupled over the past 2 months, Walker and Bush have stayed about the same, and the most conservative also-rans, like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee, have lost voters to Trump.

Unlike every other entrant, he is not a politician and has never held public office. Just a few years ago, he wasn’t even a Republican. What could it mean that he is in the lead?

When Trump pretended to be a Republican presidential candidate in 2011, his history of political donations leaned Democratic, including sizable donations to Harry Reid, Rahm Emanuel, and John Kerry. He gave often to Hillary Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation.

His behavior and public statements are most un-presidential. Trump was able to use student and medical deferments to avoid service in Vietnam. Yet he claimed to Bill O’Reilly, “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” At a Republican gathering on Saturday, he disparaged John McCain’s well known Vietnam service record: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s personal life appears to be the opposite of what conservatives prefer. He was married three times. In 2004, he told the Daily News, “All of the women on ‘The Apprentice’ flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.” In his 2007 book, Trump boasted, “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I’m getting?’ ”

Those things appear not to matter as much to conservatives as his recent remarks about immigrants, which have catapulted him in the polls. In his June announcement that he was a candidate, Trump claimed that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

When conservatives explain why they like Trump, they often use the word “truth”. What does it mean when Trump’s supporters say that he tells the truth? People who labeled themselves Tea Party supporters in the recent FOX poll were the LEAST likely to vote for a candidate who is “sometimes less than honest and would lie to cover up the truth.” No age group, racial group, gender group, or income group put a higher value on truth than Tea Party supporters.

Extreme conservatives want the truth as they believe it, and Trump gives it to them.

Here is that truth as shown in that FOX poll. Tea Party supporters see the least benefit in any kind of immigration and the most danger. When asked several questions about possible benefits of LEGAL immigration, Tea Party people had the least interest. When asked a series of questions about concerns they might have about ILLEGAL immigration, Tea Party supporters consistently gave the highest negative answers. 76% are “very concerned” about an increase in crime, and 80% about “overburdening government programs and services”. Other possible issues, such as “taking jobs away from U.S. citizens”, are of much less concern. Over half, much more than any other group, wanted to deport as many illegal immigrants as possible.

Less than half of Americans think Donald Trump was correct in his claims about whom Mexico is “sending” over the border, but three-quarters of Tea Party supporters agree with him.

Donald Trump is a vain, self-promoting, amoral man, whose focus on himself and his money would make an awful President. I think most of the people who say they support him now, more than six months before the Iowa Caucuses on February 1, already know that. By picking Trump, they are sending a message to the Republican Party, and to us all, about their distaste for immigration and especially Hispanic immigrants. Trump is saying what they want to hear about immigration. Right-wing Americans don’t want him – they want the other Republicans to listen up, to learn their truth.

Trump is just riding that wave. Soon he’ll go down. What matters is what other Republicans do with their most vocal and extreme voters.

We all need to pay attention. And we must keep saying, as often as possible, that just like everything else Trump says about political issues, this too is a lie.

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