It shouldn’t have been like this.
By late 2015, angry demagogues were supposed to have been dumped in the rubbish bin of history. Every politician knew that they were one gaffe away from oblivion Inclusivity and empathy should have prevailed. The rules were clear: smile, have a squeaky clean past and listen to focus groups. Politicians did anything else at their peril.
Then Trump drove a bulldozer through these orthodoxies.
By any reasonable standard, he’s appalling. From his comb over, to his questionable business history to his grossly offensive slurs on racial minorities, he’s the candidate that only a suicidal political strategist would want as a client.
Yet he’s winning. OK, right now he’s only winning in a very bizarre environment. The Republican Party of 2015 is the only place in the developed world where Charles Darwin is still considered an acolyte of Satan. But it's where Trump is out ahead – and we still don’t know when, or if, his luck will run out.
But is it luck? He’s not the first dangerous crank to walk this path. In the 1930s, Germany found itself under the control of someone who was dismissed as a fanatical fringe-player only a short time previously.
So what’s fuelling this success? Trump’s fame and money – essential ingredients for political success in the US – provide some answers. But they’re not the full story.
Trump offers utter clarity. There’s no ambiguity or fudge. There’s no evasiveness that typifies politicians afraid of saying something they could subsequently be clubbed with. Bizarrely, this creates an image of trust. Trump’s utter self-belief means he’s unafraid of saying what he really thinks – and by so doing, he’s perceived as ‘authentic’. He appears to be someone with nothing to hide. And as such, some seem to think he can be trusted.
So Trump’s clarity and apparent authenticity have struck a chord – but so far, only with a bigoted and under-educated minority that cluster in the Republican Party. The wider ocean of differing views he’ll encounter in 2016 will be a far more testing environment.
But for now – and I hate admitting it - Trump has powerful lessons for anyone with a message to communicate. You must be clear and consistent. You must be simple. You must believe in what you say. And you must be accept criticism and not be swayed by it.
The hairstyle is optional.
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