Donald Trump exploded onto the American political scene in July 2015 with a series of inflammatory and provocative policies which have dominated the media coverage. Initially, the pundocracy considered him a joke candidate destined to disappear after a few months in the limelight. It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
Trump has enjoyed consistent leads in the polls for months and is the established number one candidate with only Senator Cruz left as a real threat. What are the reasons behind his surge in the polls and popularity among the public? I will outline the key factors behind his rise as I see it:
The Washington pundocracy, both Democrat and Republican, have ignored the toxic issue of illegal migration by Mexicans into America for years for different reasons. For the republican elite, illegal migration has forced down wages for blue-collar workers which has benefited multinational corporations who are key donors of the party. For the Democrats, the Hispanic voting bloc is an important voting demographic and cracking down hard on illegal immigration would fracture their progressive voting coalition. The biggest losers of mass illegal migration from the south are unskilled blue-collar American workers who have seen their wages flat-line due to competition from Mexican migrants. Trump has ruthlessly moved into this political space vacated by the rest of the political elite and monopolised it with his proposal of a wall to end illegal migration. Trump is the only US candidate actually addressing the issue of illegal migration and blue collar voters love him for it.
An under-estimated factor for the popularity of Trump is his long-established opposition to the post-9/11 military wars led by the Bush and Obama administrations, specifically the Iraq and Libya wars. President Obama’s election victory was in part a reaction by the American public tired of disastrous military interventions in the Middle East and Trumps campaign feeds on that same national mood. Hilary Clinton’s interventionist policies on foreign policy may work well in elite Republican circles but outside the Beltway the majority of ordinary Republicans are fed up with foreign wars in Muslim countries.
The rise of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world is a complex phenomenon and I will explore this matter in a separate post soon. It is important to separate Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism as the two are often mistakenly conflated. Islamic fundamentalism is an illiberal, intolerant and extremely restrictive interpretation of Islam which according to respected polls a significant minority of Muslims subscribe to around the world.
Fundamentalist Islam is incompatible with a liberal, democratic society which values freedom of speech and religion and consequently integration into the wider non-Muslim society is impossible. This is why Islamic ghettos dominated by fundamentalists have emerged in Western societies which have seen mass Muslim migration over the past decades. The minority of extremists intimidate the majority of non-fundamentalist Muslims into imposing their strict Islamic practises on the community.
Islamic terrorism derives from fundamentalist Islam but only a tiny proportion of Muslim fundamentalists will ever become terrorists. Islamic terrorists are like fish swimming in a sea of Islamic fundamentalism. All fundamentalists, due to their intolerant and supremacist interpretation of Islam, have the potential to become terrorists even if the majority of them never do.
Ordinary Americans are very concerned about the rise of jihadi terrorism in America. Whilst American Muslims are well-integrated, there are worries about whether the migration of foreign Muslims may lead to the ‘parallel societies’ that you see in major European cities, with the risk of Paris style attacks being launched in the future from disaffected and brainwashed young Muslims. The fundamental problem for the Pundocracy is that they have no affective answer to these challenges because there isn’t one. The challenge of marginalizing Islamic fundamentalism will only come from within the Muslim world.
Donald Trumps proposal of temporarily shutting down Muslim migration from the rest of the world is the equivalent of getting a sledgehammer to crush a rapidly growing nut. The majority of law-abiding, non-extremist Muslims is effectively barred from the United States due to the minority of fundamentalists and the terrorist risks they pose. It is important to note that the Obama administration was already tightening the visa-waver programme for Muslims entering the United States.
In summary, Trumps proposals are a radical escalation of a growing bipartisan consensus to restrict Muslim migration from countries considered a high risk of Islamic extremism. Every jihadi attack launched around the world will lead to a steady rise of popular support for Trumps radical proposal of shutting down Muslim migration. The biggest risk of Trump’s proposal is that by not trying to discriminate between the peaceful majority of Muslims and the minority of extremists that it will only encourage the spread of fundamentalist Islam.
American voters may consider that as a risk worth taking if given the option of effectively quarantining a troubled Muslim world from the American heartland.
According to the national polls, likely US voters by a 50% to 38% margin trust Trump more than Clinton to handle the economy and job creation. Trumps background as a successful businessman plays well with voters and the economy is a key issue in this election. Assuming Trump shifts to the political centre after winning the Republican primaries than the economy will be a key theme of his campaign. Trump enjoys a strong lead against Clinton on this key issue.
Overall the polling evidence suggests that Trump is in a strong position to defeat Hilary Clinton in a presidential election.