You may hate Donald Trump. Or love him. The polls suggest you are probably in one camp or the other. But the talk has already turned from whether he is simply a vehicle for protest to whether he can actually sustain his remarkable early dominance of the Republican presidential race.
Fully realizing the likelihood of being flamed/ridiculed/lectured here about how I don’t really understand the political process or am dangerously naive, etc., allow me to make the case for why you better take Donald Trump seriously.
Just look at the strength of his position. The establishment can’t stop him. The grassroots and untapped voters defiantly support him. He has unlimited money, enormous name recognition, facing a huge Republican field and a very vulnerable Democrat. He is dominating the media. And he has so far proven immune from the persistent attacks of media from the far left to far right.
So as we try to figure out whether all this is sustainable, let us itemize a dozen things a candidate generally needs or desires in order to succeed, and see how Trump stacks up in those 12 categories -.a political dirty dozen if you will.
Momentum – Trump had the mojo right out of the gate – and hasn’t relinquished it since.
Support from the Establishment – He obviously doesn’t have it, and never will, but what he does have is all the leverage he could possibly have over them at this point. He is controlling at least a quarter of the vote in a 17 person field, dominating the headlines, and just like in his business deals, he won’t give up his best leverage – the possibility of running as an independent. Much as they would like with every fiber of their being to crush him, the establishment is powerless to do so because he’s holding all the cards.
Support from the grassroots – well, that is where his support is coming from, albeit in significant measure from radically disaffected voters. He is attracting new people to the political process, much as Obama did. People who are intent on giving Washington the one finger salute. Donald Trump has somehow become the populist multi-billionaire.
Money – you must have money to win the presidency, and Trump has more than all the rest of the candidates combined. He can thus legitimately claim not to be beholden to any interest group….unlike every other candidate. He doesn’t have to raise a dime, which frees him to spend his time on the stump and on TV.
Experience – Trump has had spectacular success in the world of business. He knows how the world works and is fabulously wealthy. The fact that he has no political experience has so far been one of his most important assets.
An Optimal Political Climate – he’s certainly got that going for him. People’s disgust is peaking, and they are ripe for something entirely different – someone who is politically incorrect, truly independent from the Washington establishment, and who says the same things they have long been thinking.
A Divided Field – as a front runner, you always want to have the rest of the vote split as many ways as possible. Trump has five or six reasonably strong candidates and ten lesser ones carving up the ¾ of the vote he isn’t getting so that none of them have been able to emerge as a clear alternative.
A Vulnerable Opponent – let’s put it simply regarding Hillary Clinton – she is in deep trouble, embroiled in a growing scandal – and another with potentially long tentacles – that has her trust numbers tanking. She has been so tone-deaf and run such a poor campaign that one honestly wonders how she can possibly explain away all this stuff when she finally consents to actually facing the media. Indeed, her still-rising negatives could well offset or exceed Trump’s own high negatives. When some Democrats say with a straight face that Al Gore may be considering a run, we’re talking Code Red.
Free Media – you have to get the media to cover you. And love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Trump, already known to most every American – I mean, how many presidential candidates have had their own hit prime time TV show – has been sucking up an almost unprecedented amount of the political oxygen. Talk about the embodiment of “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.” People and the media simply can not and will not avert their eyes. And you can not argue with his typically brash assertion that he, the self-proclaimed ratings magnet, was responsible for delivering an astounding 24 million viewers for the first debate.
Branding – the Trump brand has long been out there. And yes, a candidate is a brand just as political parties are. His undiluted, self-focused streams of consciousness, coupled with his campaign theme of “Making America Great Again” has struck a chord and so far made it possible for him to talk policy by sound bite.
Ground Game – we don’t yet know if the nascent Trump political operation will be effective. But having operatives on the ground in all 99 counties in Iowa and the like may be less important for Trump than any candidate we can remember, because he is already one of the most well-known men in the world.
Teflon – you need to be able to deflect the bad stuff that comes your way – and I cannot remember another candidate who could have survived at least three serious controversies, any one of which might well have sunk most candidates. And incredibly, he hasn’t just survived in the midst of constant controversy. He has thrived. He insults Mexicans….his numbers go up. He insults war hero John McCain…his numbers go up again. He goes after Megyn Kelly after the first debate and is labeled a radical misogynist….and his numbers go up yet again. That is not just teflon. It is reinforced teflon.
All that said, there are those who will proclaim that it’s not unusual to see a shocking frontrunner so early in the process. Nice try, but this is not Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain or Rick Perry, the flavors of the month – or a couple of weeks, really – in 2012. Notwithstanding my colleague’s dissent , this is not Robertson, Buchanan or Forbes. They were all far lesser lights with limited regional or demographic appeal. Trump has been on top nationally from the moment he completed his rambling announcement speech more than two months ago, and his lead has only grown. Perhaps he will soon hit a plateau. Perhaps not.
What is most amusing is how all this has confounded the political and media establishment, both of which thought they understood how these things work. They are simply at a loss to understand why all these barbarians – the Trump-ets for lack of a better word – are still pounding at the gate. A guy like Trump is supposed to have already peaked and faded.
Instead, we are reaching the point where Trump’s support can no longer be written off as simply the product of the usual array of disaffected voters (including a bunch of people who generally don’t vote because they’re disgusted by the whole lot of them), who will eventually come to their senses.
Is it possible, possible, that what we are seeing now is a decisive chunk of America finally finding the vessel, and taking full advantage of it, to say this whole thing is not working, so we are going to try and blow it up and start over?
Are there enough people saying we’re gonna vote for whoever we damn well please, not the usual pre-packaged candidates the political parties are trying to foist on us?
Are there enough saying we intend to be represented by successful people from the real world, as the founders envisioned, not professional politicians who have consistently failed us?
Are there enough of these people to actually make Donald Trump the Republican nominee, and President of the United States?
Who knows for sure? We can only prognosticate. As Peggy Noonan  has written, there are three choices in this election: more Obama, less Obama, and Trump.
We do know he’s got a double digit lead. Facing what was generally considered a strong and deep field, he is the only one of the 17 candidates to exceed 20%, and one of only two in double digits. And is it not validation of the nation’s mood that the only other candidate above single digits is also from outside the political realm – Dr. Ben Carson.
Yes, the political season has yet to swing into high gear, and the other candidates will start throwing their millions of dollars at the wall come autumn. But so will Trump.
So go ahead and write off Donald Trump as a flash in the pan or a know-nothing celebrity candidate or a narcissistic blowhard who’s bound to crash. But understand you do so at your own peril.