Trump-eting his own 'message'

Mr Donald Trump hugging a US flag in New Hampshire in August. Experts say his base is largely white, of a lower socio-economic status and less educated than average, and that is where his comments are hitting home.
Mr Donald Trump hugging a US flag in New Hampshire in August. Experts say his base is largely white, of a lower socio-economic status and less educated than average, and that is where his comments are hitting home.PHOTO: REUTERS

For all the sound and fury, there may be some method in presidential hopeful's mad rhetoric

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."

  • Where the other GOP candidates stand

  • According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, Mr Donald Trump has the support of 35 per cent of Republican primary voters.

    TED CRUZ: 16 PER CENT

    Riding on the coat-tails of Mr Trump, the Texas senator is generally unwilling to condemn his statements, hoping to pick up a number of Trump supporters if Mr Trump were to fall by the wayside. He is now second in a number of polls, and the leading candidate in Iowa, which is an important early primary state.

    DR BEN CARSON: 13 PER CENT

    The retired neurosurgeon is a favourite among Christian conservatives and has been playing up his "outsider" status just like Mr Trump. He trailed behind Mr Trump in the polls for much of the summer and fall, but has been slipping since last month.

    MARCO RUBIO : 9 PER CENT

    The Florida senator is playing it slow and steady. He has pretty much remained among the top contenders from the get-go, never peaking nor dropping to the lows of those on campaign "death watch". He is quick on his feet especially on the debate stage and always quick to remind people of his parents - a maid and a bartender - and their humble beginnings.

    JEB BUSH: 3 PER CENT

    The former Florida governor, once thought to be the Republican party's front runner with a formidable war chest, has fallen steadily from grace, especially after each poor showing at the television debates, where he struggled to secure a breakthrough moment. He had to slash campaign staff and salaries in October, signalling some trouble in his campaign.

ON MEXICANS

When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

MR DONALD TRUMP, during his presidential announcement speech on June 16

ON 9/11 ATTACKS

Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.

MR TRUMP, at a Nov 21 rally, implying the Arab community in New Jersey was rejoicing during the 9/11 attack. Many have disputed this claim.

ON KEEPING OUT ILLEGALS

I will build a great wall - and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me - and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

MR TRUMP, during his June 16 presidential announcement speech, on how he intends to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.

ON MEDIA

You know, on television, on Fox and CNN, they call it all Trump, all the time. And by the way, their ratings are through the roof. If they weren't, they wouldn't put me on... If you get good ratings, then you'll be on all the time, even if you have nothing to say.

MR TRUMP, during a September campaign rally

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'TRUMP-ETING HIS OWN 'MESSAGE''. Print Edition | Subscribe