Donald Trump changes positions on issues more often than he changes underwear. He is not a principled conservative, not even close. He displays a pathological need to be loved. He cannot be depended upon to follow through precisely on the numerous proposals he has floated. Many are mutually contradictory. He was for welcoming Syrian refugees before he was against them. He was for staying out of the ISIS mess before he called for bombing them. He was for funding Democratic politicians before he decided to run against them.
None of this matters to those of us supporting Trump. Trump is surging because he is such a good listener. Videos from the opening days of his campaign are unwatchable narcissism. But he listened. He obviously was immediately schooled and took those lessons to heart. Trump is a mirror, reflecting the concerns of the center. The center is much further to the Right than the bipartisan establishment is willing to admit, including to themselves.
Trump has been careful to narrow his platform to a small list of significant concerns, rather than attempting to be all things to all people. The narrower his agenda, the broader his electoral appeal. He does not stray from core, existential concerns of the majority. Healthcare, guns, defense, veterans, jobs, trade and taxes. And especially the corruption of the financial/political/media class. Rather than straddling the fence on a long line of issues, Trump targets a compact list of voters’ primary concerns. He is a centrist in the mold of Nixon, reelected with 60.7% of the popular vote, or Reagan, both reelected in 49-state blowouts, the only ones to accomplish this feat.
Trump listens to those ignored for decades. He hears our existential angst and relates. We have been sitting across from him at the negotiating table since June. Trump closes a deal faster than anyone. He stated the Iran negotiations could have concluded in a day, a week at most. (A strong argument can be made that the quality of any agreement is inversely related to the time spent in negotiation.) Closing a deal entails identifying the other party's needs and meeting them, or making them feel this is true. Negotiators are flexible. The art of the deal consists of the ability to listen and possess the imagination to craft a framework acceptable to both sides. The counterparty must not leave the table with the sense the deal has been adversarial. In the ongoing electoral negotiation Trump has rapidly identified our needs and displayed the flexibility to fulfill them.
Trump adheres to the principles of Marketing 101: Make a personal connection with the customer; convince him you are his friend; listen to his problems, offer a solution. Contrast Trump’s strategy with the single-digit candidates. Kasich incessantly reminds us he is the son of a mailman (something only an Establishment member feels a need to emphasize), then veers into a ditch by rattling off a list of achievements, an approach devoid of marketing appeal. Bush lacks any coherent strategy, content to rely on the Consultant Class and their faith that appending an exclamation point to his name constitutes marketing brilliance and compensates for mediocrity. Carson’s support plummeted once it became clear he never took Marketing 101. Integrity and intelligence are swell, but can't carry a presidential candidacy.
Trump appropriately touts attending Wharton. With Trumpian braggadocio, Wharton states it has “the largest, most cited, and most published marketing faculty in the world.” “Wharton began teaching and researching marketing before the field even existed, initiating courses in 1909.” They clearly know how to market themselves. Branding earned Trump billions; now he applies identical tactics to politics. Wharton professors will spend the remainder of this century using his campaign for case studies.
Is Trump just another lying politician? What sets him apart is a willingness to confront corruption and convince us he will vanquish it. Sarah Palin enjoyed success following this route, in Alaska and nationally. Bernie Sanders treads the same path. When Trump reminds us Ted Cruz has no friends in Washington, this shrewdly preempts Cruz from adopting the mantle of a leader who can negotiate and coerce a corrupt Congress into reform.
No one, including Trump, knows how his tax reform plan will manifest. We only know it will be yuuge and reverse decades of Congressional corruption. Details are irrelevant. Voters have confidence in Trump’s negotiating prowess and commitment to advocate on behalf of national, not special interests. When a small minority controls the political agenda and enriches itself to the detriment of the majority, voters will inevitably stampede to the first viable alternative. The issue uniting voters beyond economic or even security concerns is our abhorrence of corruption. Sanders and Trump supporters unite in revulsion to overt, gratuitous corruption.
Trump is accused of being poll obsessed. All of us are in election years. Trump listens to us, and polls provide the best way of listening to the electorate. Contrast this to a deaf Congress and administration, flipping us off, disdainful of their abysmal poll ratings. The establishment of both parties long ago tossed their base under the bus, ran over them, put it in reverse and drove back over them. If Sanders is denied the Democratic* nomination, much of the party’s base will skip the election (or support Trump) while only the GOP establishment (a distinct minority of the party) is sidelined by a Trump candidacy. Simple math ensures a Trump landslide.
Trump promises to cleanse the Washington/Wall Street/internationalist axis stables. He markets himself as an outsider. Despite his wealth it appears he sincerely perceives himself this way. He was born unassimilated Outer Borough and never fully abandoned his roots. Each time the Establishment rejects him, his popular appeal increases. When Chris Matthews sides with Trump against the GOP establishment, a political tsunami is building, destroying all blocking its path.
(*Sanders is no Democrat. He despises the party and runs under its banner as a convenience. He has accomplished a hostile takeover, infiltrating the corpse. His ascendancy underscores the party’s decrepitude.)