Explaining the Trump Candidacy?

To me one of the major questions of this campaign season is:  why is Trump running?  It is a question to which I wonder if we will ever have an adequate answer.   On one level, for example, I can’t imagine Trump wanting to actually be the president.  Further, I can’t decipher any policy motive for his run.

A lengthy piece in the NYT from yesterday posits a theory:  Donald Trump’s Presidential Run Began in an Effort to Gain Stature:

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he had encountered many who doubted or dismissed him as a political force before now. “I realized that unless I actually ran, I wouldn’t be taken seriously,” he said.

[…]

“A lot of people have laughed at me over the years,” he said in a speech days before the New Hampshire primary. “Now, they’re not laughing so much.”

I am not sure if the piece provides the answer to my question, but it does strike me as a valid theory.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    I realized that unless I actually ran, I wouldn’t be taken seriously…

    Oh please…plenty of people still don’t take him seriously…

  2. M. Bouffant says:

    Trump is simply a swamp of psychological pathologies.

    One of Fallows’ readers notes this about Trump:

    I have now been through dozens of interviews with Trump with a variety of interviewers, and I have never once—not once—heard him discuss anything, any subject of any kind, with any evidence of knowledge, never mind thought. None. Zero. He’s like a skipping stone over a pond. He doesn’t even come close to the level of dilettante.

    You’d think at some point, something, anything would have engaged his interest enough to read up on it and think about it, but as far as I can tell, nothing has. Much more so even than George W., he appears to lack anything resembling intellectual curiosity. Maybe he’s faking it, but while understanding can sometimes be faked, you can’t fake ignorance convincingly.

  3. MBunge says:

    Oh, for pete’s sake. Donald Trump is not an alien. He’s no more difficult to understand than any other human being.

    He’s rich enough to do whatever he wants. Just four years ago, the GOP was practically falling all over itself to treat him like a legitimate political player. He actually cares about his country and what he sees wrong with it. He has an enormous ego. He’s old enough to know his chance to do something like this is slipping away.

    And I suspect most of the extremely wealthy are just as ignorant on public policy as Trump.

    Mike

  4. @MBunge:

    He actually cares about his country and what he sees wrong with it. He has an enormous ego. He’s old enough to know his chance to do something like this is slipping away.

    I am not sure, really, what any of this means save that you have bough into his vapid “Make America Great Again” nonsense.

    And I suspect most of the extremely wealthy are just as ignorant on public policy as Trump.

    None of them are running for president.

    And, I would note, your assertions are contradictory: on the one hand you assert that he knows what is wrong with the country (which implies knowledge of a solution) and then agree that he is ignorant of public policy.

  5. Gustopher says:

    I’m still laughing at him.

    It’s a different laugh, to be sure, and there’s disgust mixed with my disdain, and a bit of horror that his idiocy is playing so well, but I’m still laughing.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: He’s also an IDIOT. Anyone who doesn’t accept criticism or doesn’t have the detachment to stand back and think “is this actually true or am I fooling myself” is going to always fail by comparison to someone who does have the self-discrimination.

  7. Kylopod says:

    I’ve been mulling this over for a long time. What has struck me is that the way he talks doesn’t sound like the sort of candidate who actually intends to be president one day. Yet here we are. He’s constantly making outlandish boasts that he can’t possibly believe he’ll live up to, from the Mexico border wall to claiming he’ll win 100% of the black vote.

    Of course presidents break campaign pledges all the time, but depending on how blatantly they are stated and how much publicity they receive, they come with consequences. If you’ve ever read about the story behind Bush Senior’s “read my lips” pledge, you’ll find that several of his advisors warned him sharply against putting that line in his speech. (It was none other than Roger Ailes who talked him into leaving it in.) And everyone knows how that turned out.

    On the other hand, marginal candidates talk this way all the time. In 2008, a minor candidate named Mike Gravel told a Jewish publication that, if elected, he would make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and thereby “diffuse the entire conflict between Islam and the West.” Last year minor Democratic candidate Lawrence Lessig (who didn’t receive enough support to appear at any of the debates) founded his entire campaign on campaign finance reform, and he argued that electing him would generate a mandate so powerful it would make passage of the bill in Congress inevitable.

    Why do minor candidates say stuff like this? Quite simply, because they have the privilege of knowing these claims will never be put to the test. So they’re free to say whatever the hell they like about all the grand stuff they’d achieve in office. So it’s no surprise that the more marginal a candidate, the likelier they are to engage in openly bombastic rhetoric. People with a realistic chance of reaching the Oval Office are usually at least a tad more cautious.

    Yet here we are, with a GOP front-runner who talks like a marginal candidate. It no longer seems credible to assume that his candidacy was a mere publicity stunt, even though it seemed to carry all the hallmarks of one. Maybe he figures the presidency is just like Trump University, that even if he fails he can sell it as a success. If so, he’s in for a rude surprise.

  8. @Steven L. Taylor:

    No, I think MBunge is right about that, Trump does care about this country and what he thinks is wrong with it. Trump’s completely wrong about what’s wrong with this country, but I think he’s sincerely wrong.

    This is just a demonstration that strength of feeling isn’t a substitute for ability.

  9. KM says:

    @MBunge:

    He actually cares about his country

    Well, he certainly didn’t act like it prior this sideshow. As a businessman, he wasn’t a proponent for the working man; he’s not known for using all Made in America items or offering above average wages to regular employees. In fact, he’s known for screwing over employees and has never been considered a great boss in any of his endeavors. He employees illegals in droves and would outsource in a heartbeat to save a penny. If he really cared about this issue, he’d have run a clean shop and taken a personal interest in making sure it stayed that way (no passing the buck to HR or “I didn’t know”). It was all about him and how much he could make, never about Joe Schmoe in Sanitation. He’s unapologetically pro-1% and doesn’t give one fig about the rest of us.

    Wanna Make America Great Again? Get rid of greedy CEOs like Trump since they’re the ones screwing over Joe Schmoe, not the minority down the street.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    The rise of Trump isn’t that much of a mystery

    It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama.

  11. MBunge says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: you assert that he knows what is wrong with the country (which implies knowledge of a solution) and then agree that he is ignorant of public policy.

    I didn’t state that Trump KNOWS what is wrong with the country. I stated what he THINKS is wrong with it. One can still have opinions while being almost entirely ignorant.

    The only reason you can’t understand Trump is a cultural prejudice against someone who doesn’t follow the same norms.

    Take this protest violence stuff. Go back and look at what people, including Ronald Reagan, said about protestors in the 1960s. Trump’s comments aren’t far afield from that. Which is not to defend Trump’s macho posturing as correct. Merely pointing out that it is easy to understand if one can get past a bias that all right-thinking people must accept the same elite-mandated, early 21st century consensus.

    Mike

  12. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: If what you’re saying is that Trump is a great manipulator. I certainly agree that.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    I’m sorry, I see no evidence that Trump knows or cares about what’s wrong with the country, beyond that the country has insufficient reverence for The Donald.

  14. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Yep. I have no idea what Trump truly believes, other than in the aggrandizement of Donald Trump. He says what he knows will bring cheers and adulation from his constituents. And, God help us, there seem to be more of them than I wanted to believe.

  15. MBunge says:

    @grumpy realist: If what you’re saying is that Trump is a great manipulator. I certainly agree that.

    What I’m saying about Trump is that he’s not some sort of Lovecraftian beast from the great beyond. He’s a human being whose behavior and attitudes are no more mysterious than anyone else’s and if people are responding to what he’s selling, it’s far less his fault and far more the responsibility of our current political establishment and their feckless, craven and cowardly stewardship.

    Stopping Trump from getting into the Oval Office may be a good idea. But we saw a more refined version of this 20 years ago with Pat Buchanan. Now we’re getting a rawer and even more powerful resurgence of much the same thing. Our elites totally ignored it before and appear to be in just as much denial now, which makes me very worried that the third time around is going to be very much not a charm for any of us.

    Mike

  16. DrDaveT says:

    @MBunge:

    and if people are responding to what he’s selling, it’s far less his fault and far more the responsibility of our current political establishment and their feckless, craven and cowardly stewardship.

    I agree with all of that except the adjectives at the end. They are too kind. You’re glossing over the fact that the GOP deliberately created this situation. They did it through a combination of propaganda, fearmongering, and intentional sabotage of the educational system. “Feckless” and “craven” aren’t even close.

    The Lovecraftian horror is not Trump — he’s just another solipsistic Generalissimo wannabe. The Lovecraftian horror is that shockingly large segment of the American public that is so brainwashed and ignorant as to want Trump to be President. The problem is not so much that our elites have been ignoring them, as that a particular set of them have been deliberately courting them for selfish reasons. And no, in this case both sides do not do it.

  17. Grewgills says:

    @MBunge:
    You are right that he’s not difficult to understand and you are right about how close his rhetoric is to an earlier political climate. Certainly in the 50s or 60s (or earlier) BLM protesters (or similar) at a conservative political rally would have been carried out on a stretcher at best. Where I think you are wrong is about his sincerity. He is a huckster. He is selling what the rubes are buying and it’s all about his ego, not making America great again. Maybe at some point he bought into his own bullshit, but that doesn’t make him sincere.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Grewgills: He doesn’t even realize that there is a difference between the bullshit he spouts and reality.

  19. MBunge says:

    It’s not really about Trump, though.

    I just watched Chris Hayes show the clip of the guy trying to rush the stage at that Trump rally. You know what Hayes felt was the truly disturbing thing in that situation? Not the rushing the stage. Not the guy trying to physically disrupt the speech of a Presidential candidate, possibly risking his own life and the lives of others by sparking a confrontation with the Secret Service.

    No, what Hayes was offended by was the verbal response from the crowd, who yelled expletives and stuff like “kick his ass” and “kill him.” These people witness something that, to their eyes, looks like an assault or possibly an assassination attempt on their political leader, and Chris Hayes thinks their excited utterances are the real thing to worry about.

    Mike

  20. Grewgills says:

    @MBunge:
    A couple of questions:
    Do you find that reaction from the audience at all troubling?
    What do you think the audience response would be to a similar incident at an event for any of the other candidates? Particularly the Democratic candidates?

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @Grewgills: Had the experience of demonstrating (if you can call it that – ‘demonstrating’ has acquired a subtext of ‘disrupting’ that it actually doesn’t deserve) at a George Wallace rally back in ’68 in Jackson TN. Was a student at a small college there and some of my classmates and I joined with students from a ‘Historically Black College’ (Lane College) to attend with the intention of walking out after the main speaker (Gov John Bell Williams of MS) began his speech.

    We were pretty conspicuous and had been seated in a balcony and the first speaker invited us to walk out post haste. “There is no time like the present,” he said. So we did.

    I recall the rising waves of hatred coming from the main floor seats as we filed out. I was scared, I’ll admit. But nothing much happened except a good bit of shouting at us.

    And in regards to the Chris Hayes show and the emphasis on the shouts of the Trumpets instead of the stupidity of the nutjob rushing the stage — I didn’t particularly care that Gov Williams was an unreconstructed confederate. What I took away from my little experience was the power of a — well, it wasn’t a mob exactly — but it could have become one very quickly. And such mobs in an earlier but unforgotten time have left people hanging from trees.

  22. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Thank you for crystallizing why I find myself reading here less and less each week.

    You started out your posting with this:

    To me one of the major questions of this campaign season is: why is Trump running? It is a question to which I wonder if we will ever have an adequate answer. On one level, for example, I can’t imagine Trump wanting to actually be the president. Further, I can’t decipher any policy motive for his run.

    MBunge gives you an answer. It’s a polite one, and seems pretty reasonable.

    At that point, instead of thanking him, you instead demand that he defend Trump’s motives — an entirely different kettle of fish. It’s like you baited him so you could attack him. Or, possibly, you wanted an excuse to rant about Trump’s motives and intentions, and set Mike up to bear the brunt of your rant.

    I’ve played that game with a few of the commentariat you have here, but this is the first time I’ve noticed one of the hosts pulling that particular a-hole move.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @MBunge:

    And I suspect most of the extremely wealthy are just as ignorant on public policy as Trump.

    Many of them seem eager to prove your theory.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Make America Great Again” nonsense

    Has Trump, or any of his supporters, offered a rational explanation of what that is even supposed to mean? Quoting you, Stephen, but throwing the question out generally.

  25. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Dr. Taylor specifically objected to this statement.

    He actually cares about his country and what he sees wrong with it.

    That is an assertion without evidence.

    Dr. T did not ask M to defend Trump, he asked M to clarify his own statement.

    I have a thesis that poor reading comprehension is critical to conservatism. Thank you for the demo.

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    @gVOR08: The original question is what motivates Trump. Trump’s words and actions are consistent with him believing that to be true. One may disagree with Trump’s manner of expressing that feeling, but you’d need to be a mind-reader to assess the truthfulness of it.

    Some people think that they best express their love of country by expressing their contempt for the symbols of the country, like stomping on the flag (unrepentant domestic terrorist BIll Ayers, the a-hole who tried to rush Trump on stage, just to name two).

    Trump says he loves this country, wants to correct things he sees as wrong. He believes he can best do that by being president.

    He may be right or wrong in those beliefs, but that is irrelevant about whether he holds them, and how he chooses to express them. And just saying “but he’s wrong to believe them” doesn’t achieve a damned thing.

    Communists and socialists have some seriously effed-up beliefs that motivate them. Pointing out how those interrelated ideologies have not only consistently failed, but racked up a 9-figure body count just in the last century (far outstripping Nazism and fascism) doesn’t do a damned thing to persuade them.

    Telling them that they’re wrong doesn’t achieve anything.

    Telling each other that they’re wrong achieves even less.

    Understanding them is the first step to defeating them. Once you understand the other side, you have a better chance of undermining their flawed beliefs. Just going up to their faces and saying “you’re wrong!” just tends to make them double down.

    All the constant talk here about how Trump is horrible and Trump is wrong is not only utterly pointless, but utterly tedious. Not one person has shown the slightest inkling on how to best undermine Trump and his support; instead, it’s a bunch of arrogant a-holes all virtue-signalling to each other about how they all agree that Trump is really bad.

    And when someone like Mike or me offer a little insight into the underpinnings of Trump’s appeal, we get attacked and challenged to defend Trump and his actions.

    Screw that.

    The prevailing attitudes of the commentariat here are entirely emblematic of the forces that give Trump a lot of his appeal. And this is one messenger who’s tired of being shot for bringing the message.

  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Thank you. That comment is useful.

    Trump’s words and actions are consistent with him believing that to be true.

    Now I see where we’re talking around each other. To you, and presumably to M. Bunge, it is self evident that Trump is sincere and is telling the truth. Would you believe that to me, and I suspect many of the commenters here, and the principals, it is self evident that Trump is insincere and is lying. We would say that Trump’s words and actions are consistent with a con. Food for a bit of speculation about how people determine truth.

  28. @gVOR08: Not only do I question his sincerity, I find things like “it will be amazing,” “the Mexican government will pay for the wall,” and “when I am president all the manufacturing jobs will come back to America” to be a jumble of nonsense, crazy talk, and/or outright lies.

    If Trump believes what he is saying, he is a simpleton.

    If Trump doesn’t believe what he is saying, he is a grifter.

    I am not sure there are really many other options.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Only the usual option. Is Trump a simpleton or a grifter? Yes, both.

    I take Jenos, in this case, and MBunge as sincere in their belief that Trump is what he says he is. I find it fascinating that they see it as obvious that Trump is sincere, while we find exactly the opposite obvious. The simple explanation is that he’s saying things they want to believe. But I think there’s more to it. Lakoff says conservatives tend to see everything as a matter of morality, not logic, and that theirs is a “strict father” morality in which a natural order, men above women, white above brown, is key. What Trump says about Mexicans and Muslims rings true in their moral universe.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Another aspect of natural order is wealth. And part of Lakoff’s thesis is that they believe wealth is a reward for virtue, so wealth is a proof of virtue. I just saw on another thread that MBunge said of Trump,

    Or to put it another way, when a guy is richer than you, more famous than you, more successful than you, more important than you, more powerful than you AND has just demonstrated that he seems to understand politics better than you, it remains possible that guy is still a complete fool. But you might want to consider the question a little more carefully.

    Fascinating.

  31. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If Trump believes what he is saying, he is a simpleton.

    If Trump doesn’t believe what he is saying, he is a grifter.

    But there’s one thing that’s more important that either point: Trump is winning.

    Your statements betray an incredibly simplistic, naive perception that is almost childlike. You demand black and white answers. In this case, there are worlds of gray.

    There is the possibility that Trump is simply establishing his opening stances on issues. He could be staking out an extreme position with the intent of negotiating a compromise, where he is persuaded to move off his extreme position and get something that will be acceptable in the end. He could be purposely setting these extremes purely for things he can bargain away to get his real goals.

    Why would anyone think that a possibility? What about Trump would let anyone entertain such a notion?

    Well, for starters, he literally wrote a book where he spelled all this out. And that book’s been out for almost 30 years.

    Now I invite you to take your newfound simplistic morality and apply them to some of the statements Obama made back in 2008. Here are a few:

    As president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power.

    f you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves.

    I will end this war in Iraq responsibly and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    No political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.

    I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.

    Just for the first point: the surge in natural gas has come mainly through fracking, which he’s fought; instead of trying to clean up coal, he’s worked like hell to kill it; and he’s done nothing to promote nuclear power — in fact, he’s actually taken some steps to hurt it.

  32. Jenos Idanian says:

    @gVOR08: To you, and presumably to M. Bunge, it is self evident that Trump is sincere and is telling the truth.

    No, you twit, it is not self evident. It is not even conclusive. But it is a possibility, one that you apparently lack the intellect or imagination to grasp.

    It’s basic human psychology that no one is a villain in their own eyes. No one (well, virtually no one) thinks of themselves as evil. Even the most heinous of people have a way of rationalizing their deeds and beliefs. Pretty much everyone is the hero in their own story.

    What I have said is that Trump’s statements and actions are consistent with him believing that he loves America, sees problems with America, and that he can fix them. The accuracy of that belief is irrelevant if you are trying to understand what motivates him, and actually harmful if you want to stop him. Because you don’t understand his motives and his appeal, you run the risk of reinforcing his resolve and the resolve of those backing him.

    And in this case, it’s no risk at all — it’s exactly what is happening. Or have you not noticed that the more Trump is attacked (or “exposed,” or whatever you want to call it), the better he does at the polls?

    If you’re so unhappy with him winning, why do you keep doing things that have been proven to help him keep winning?

    I don’t have a plan for stopping Trump. At this point, I’m not certain I want to stop him — the only personal opinion I will offer about him is that I find him marginally less horrifying than Hillary and Sanders.

    But just because I don’t know what will work doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize what doesn’t work. And this “hey, look, Trump’s a terrible person” schtick has helped keep him at the top of the polls.

    One consolation I have going for me is that if Trump does win, it will be in a large way due to the efforts of his detractors. He literally can’t win without you.

  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Jenos Idanian: @Jenos Idanian: Thank you for the insights into the conservative mind.