How Has Donald Trump Made It This Far?

This entire election season, I have been grappling with the same question in my head, “How has Donald Trump made it this far?”

It is a question that is routinely asked by the press, Hillary supporters, and others who I discuss the campaign with – they want to know.

He has broken almost every convention of Presidential politics and is still polling within the margin of error with Hillary Clinton in some polls. There is seemingly a new story every day about some almost scandal involving his past business practices or his foundation. He, by pretty much every account, bombed the first debate. He is on the record insulting most electoral demographics. Indeed, many of the women I speak with want to know how he can insult their looks, voices, temperaments and menstrual cycles and still have support of a third of women.

So why do the collective ‘we’ as voters still give him a fighting chance?

The first and most obvious reason is the dislike of Hillary Clinton. I think this is part her actions, but a bigger part, her circumstances. Can anyone out there name a single American who has been the subject of more attacks throughout his/her lifetime than Hillary Clinton? She was the target of them when her husband was running for Governor and then President, when she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and President in 2008, when she was confirmed 94-2 as Secretary of State, and finally in this brutal Presidential race. Perhaps those attack ads have resonated with us?

The second reason is the Electoral College and two-party system – the systemic reason. The Electoral College and states with their built in proclivities to vote for a specific party means that it is very rare for either party’s candidate to win in a landslide. This system means that any presidential race will generally appear closer than it may be. Indeed, there was an uproar caused when FoxNews on election night in 2012 was claiming the race was a toss-up despite several indicators suggesting that President Obama handily won re-election.

This brings to light a third reason, which is that the news media - not conservative, liberal or mainstream - but ALL news media benefits from a close Presidential race. They simply have no incentive to declare a race a blowout or discount a specific candidate in the Presidential race. Most papers can speak the truth about certain Congressional or other down-ballot races if one candidate is crazy, but in a Presidential race, it could easily get a paper labelled as “in-the-bag” for another candidate or suggest a bias. I don’t believe it is anything nefarious – they need customers like any other business.  

Despite these contributing reasons listed above, I believe there is something else going on that many people are finally starting to pick up on. Donald Trump is playing to the bigotry and fear of change that many working class white people have been feeling the last two decades. They finally have a standard bearer.

As the demographics of this country continues to shift and as the economy changes, working class whites and more specifically, working class white men are becoming angrier and more fearful of this change. This is not a trend exclusive to the United States as many right wing political parties in Poland, Germany, France and Great Britain have seen a resurgence resulting from this shift. In every case, the bastion of strength for these parties resides in working class white neighborhoods. The parliamentary system in European democracies provides an outlet for these minority parties where they can elect their representatives to parliament and sometimes hold positions of power in government if they are a part of the coalition. The U.S. never used to have this outlet until Donald Trump.

Trump provided a voice to these angry people that they never had before. They finally had someone competing for the highest office that was speaking their language. It wasn’t just that odd congressman or state senator that was saying these things; it was a man running for President of the United States. The things Trump has been saying have been said in bars in working class neighborhoods, on the jobsite and in the homes of many Americans. Now, these folks could go to rallies, canvas neighborhoods and say how they really feel.

I believe this message will not resonate with Independent and college-educated voters and so Trump will lose big in November. However, for anyone asking incredulously how he got this far, it is because he gave people an avenue to vent their frustration. His message is bigoted and wrong, and he will lose in November, but allowing voters to vent their frustration every once in a while may just be good for the health of our democracy. 

Matthew Starkey

Matt Starkey is a current Lakewood resident and works as a research project coordinator at Cleveland State Unviersity's Levin College of Urban Affairs. 

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Volume 12, Issue 22, Posted 5:52 PM, 10.25.2016