12 Aug 2015

What is Trumpmania? That is the question

12:58 pm on 12 August 2015

What is this Trumpmania of which you speak?

To his acolytes a bold, uncompromising all-American hero, to his critics an unhinged, bigoted human tangelo, Donald Trump has dazzled all before him in the opening act of the US presidential race.

The controversial billionaire property tycoon and reality TV star has stormed to the front of the 17-horse race for the Republican nomination. His pulling power saw a record-breaking 24 million Americans tune in to the opening debate on Fox News.

The 69-year-old New Yorker began with a high profile, and has hogged the spotlight since with his brash unorthodoxy, supernatural hair, and extraordinary way with words.

Such as?

Most recently, he attracted controversy for a post-debate attack on Fox News host Megyn Kelly, whose question relating to his derogatory remarks about women left Trump to conclude she had "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." Anyone who interpreted those words as a reference to menstruation was a "deviant", he later insisted, adding that if elected, "I will be phenomenal to the women."

In the previous weeks Trump had characterised Mexican immigrants as "criminals" and "rapists"; and in a more politically risky outburst, many thought, he'd snarled that Senator John McCain is "not a war hero".

His Twitter account, meanwhile, is a great foaming font of invective. Just one example: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive."

How did he go in the debate?

He prospered from his "honey badger-like complete inability to be embarrassed", as commentator James Fallows put it.

Despite predictions he'd suffer from the blood outburst, the orange surge has held. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published yesterday put Trump on 24% (unchanged) among Republican voters, double that of closest rival Jeb Bush, on 12% (down 5%). No other candidate managed more than 8%.

Exciting! The election must be right around the corner.

The presidential election is 454 days away. Even the primaries don't formally start till February.

What is it that attracts people to The Donald?

Katherine Miller, BuzzFeed political editor, captured it in her description of "the perfect, mutant inverse of what a serious political candidate looks like in America".

Super-wealthy yet anti-establishment, The Donald doesn't so much dogwhistle as trumpet-blow. Anyone who disagrees is a loser. You're definitely a loser.

Me?

Obviously you are, with your questions and your attitude.

Isn't his main advantage name recognition?

There's a bit of that. Fourteen series of The Apprentice has got to count for something, not to mention the number of places the Trump brand is stamped around America.

Like where?

Past and present examples include: Trump clothing, Trump cufflinks, Trump hotels, Trump golf resorts, Trump casinos, Trump bath salts, Trump cookies (trumpeteers), Trump cologne, Trump chocolate, Trump water, GoTrump.com (a search engine), Trump vodka, Trump board games (various), Trump steaks, Trump playing cards, Trump magazine, Trump airways, Trump university. Shall I go on?

No. What makes him tick?

"He is unscripted. He is unhandled. He is un-coached. Nobody puts words in his mouth." So said Roger Stone, the senior strategist that either quit or was fired from the Trump campaign this week.

But the Donald might be best understood, as others have noted, as an online comments section in human form. Did you ever see Splash?

Of course. What of it?

In Splash, a mermaid played by Darryl Hannah learns to speak English by watching daytime television. It sometimes seems The Donald might be a sea creature, too, who has washed up and learned to talk entirely by reading angry internet forums.

Any other conspiracy theories?

Some rightwingers wonder if he's "a double agent for the Left" or a "shill for the Clintons".

Where does Trump look for inspiration?

Donald Trump.

How's that?

In his 2004 book Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, the Donald offers a "consumer guide" to would-be "titans" of business. His favourite book? "I have two: The Art of the Deal and How to Get Rich, both by Donald J Trump."

(Also, importantly, "the best shampoo is Head & Shoulders.")

What about his political influences?

His slogan is "Make America Great Again", which he says he invented, and has trademarked to stop imitation.

What does that have to do with political influences?

It was also Ronald Reagan's slogan in 1980.

His policies?

They're not always easy to divine.

He is big on a crackdown on immigrants. He rages against Obamacare but has proposed something that sounds rather a lot like Obamacare. He has a "foolproof" plan to defeat ISIS but he's not getting into the detail.

He has talked about import tariffs and taxing companies that outsource abroad, but that would presumably breach a bunch of trade agreements. He's hard-nosed on China and Russia. Watch out, Putin.

And he feels strongly that the White House lacks a decent ballroom for hosting foreign dignitaries.

Does The Donald stand a serious chance?

Before the debate, election super-nerd Nate Silver wrote that the lesson of previous insurgent candidates is that "Trump's campaign will fail by one means or another ... He could remain a factor for months to come. But he's almost certainly doomed, sooner or later."

Silver rated him just a 2% chance of winning the nomination.

More optimistic is bookmaker William Hill, who gives Trump 5-1 odds of prevailing, putting him fourth behind Jeb Bush (5-4), Marco Rubio and Scott Walker (both 4-1). Trump's odds of taking the White House: 10-1. Hillary Clinton is evens.

How might a Trump presidency work out for New Zealand?

He's already being invoked as a put-down. Chris Finlayson said NZ's Trump is Winston Peters; Gareth Morgan said it's Judith Collins.

But worry not, bilateral relations will be solid. The Donald loves golf even more than the current guy.

Forgive me. I was daydreaming about John Campbell and missed most of that. Could you boil it down to 25 words?

Give me your women, your Mexicans, your huddled masses, and get them the hell out of the way. Donald Trump is coming to town. Losers.

Five words?

Hair raising trumpular election foreplay.

Toby Toby stamp

* This column is the first in a weekly series, to be published every Wednesday, by graphic artist Toby Morris and journalist Toby Manhire.