Stephen Saideman – Why Did Trump Win the Nomination?

This post was originally published on May 4th, 2016 on Saideman’s Semi-Spew:

I am not a specialist in American politics, but folks up here ask me all the time about US politics since I am an American and a political scientist. So, has America gone mad? Well, yes and no. The US has always been just a bit insane, but, no, Trump is not a harbinger of crazed Americans. What are the ingredients of his success?

  1. Trump has name recognition. That goes far, alas. After all, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton…. Of course, Jeb! could not parlay his name recognition into votes, but fame does have its advantages.
  2. Trump has more media experience than the rest of the field.
  3. Trump had more media attention than the rest of the field. Why? Because he is living clickbait–his “unscripted” ways meant that every day there was a new car crash to cover.
  4. Turnout in primaries is low with the most passionate showing up, and Trump was able to get a bigger percentage of these passionate people.
  5. In a time of hate of the establishment, Trump was the best positioned. Cruz did better than most since he is also an anti-establishment candidate, but, damn, people dislike him. Experience in this race meant being tainted by the establishment.
  6. Which speaks to this: what an incredibly weak field of candidates.
  7. Outbidding! In an auction for the votes of the frustrated, angry folks who want to blame others (Muslims, immigrants, women, African-Americans, Jews, etc), Trump consistently offered the most extreme stances. Having no shame can be handy that way. The rest of the field could not really take him on for his xenophobia and racism since they wanted the votes of the xenophobes and racists. This is a problem that Hillary Clinton is not going to have.
  8. Winner take all sucks for those who don’t win. The Republican rules really favor the frontrunner. Clinton would be done with Sanders at this point if she had the same rules.
  9. Collective action is hard. The competitors kept coming up with cooperative efforts to confront Trump a month or three late. They could just not cooperate.

So, I was wrong to underestimate Trump, partly because I overestimated Rubio and some of the others. But I am a bit more confident in the fundamentals that matter in the fall: that the GOP lost previous elections because of their inability to attract non-white votes, that the electoral college favors the Democrats, that low unemployment and few folks off at war (not quite peace and prosperity but definitely better than the 2008 incumbent party faced) favors the party of the incumbents, etc.

I also think HRC’s experience will pay off in the debates, that the divides within the GOP are far more significant and relevant than those in the Democratic coalition, and that people will not be comfy with Trump being close to the nuclear button and all that it stands for.

But I have been wrong before …

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

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