If you've been following the race for the US presidential election due next year, you're probably aware that reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump has thrown in his hat, and in the tradition of all things Trump, has decided that the best way to woo voters is to be blunt and caustic. He's called illegal Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "criminals", ridiculed one of his fellow Republican Party candidates for being captured and tortured in the Vietnam war, and just generally put on a rollicking good show for all of us watching from the sidelines. If you're as baffled as I was by the whole jamboree, here are some answers to questions you might have:
Is he crazy?
No, he definitely is not. Trump has been called a lot of things--brazen, bombastic, buffoonish--but no one's contesting that there's shrewd thinking behind his actions. And the latest opinion polls seem to vindicate him--he's currently leading the race to be the Republican Party's nominee.
Why is he making such outrageous comments?
Trump, as a billionaire, doesn't have to worry about what donors or his party think as he's funding his own campaign. So he knows he can generate as much controversy as he wants and get away with it. In fact, this brash, over-the-top image that he's been promoting for a long time has actually helped him market his brand of hotels. And clearly, if polls are to be believed, it's working in his campaign as well.
It's not all good news for him. His comments have sparked much anger, and broadcasters and television networks have cut ties with him. But Trump has historically proven to be unfazed by criticism. And all the cameras pointed at him can't possibly hurt--saying that he enjoys the attention is like saying Garfield wouldn't mind lasagna.
Who on earth would vote for him?
Believe it or not, a lot of Americans feel their country is weak and being manipulated by other nations, and that their politicians are too cautious or too naive to fight back against the world. These are the people Trump is reaching out to. He tells them he'll "bomb the hell out of" ISIS, support Libya only if he can "take their oil", build a massive wall on the border and throw out the illegal Mexicans.
Trump has also built an image of an outspoken outsider who tells harsh truths that other politicians can't or won't tell. And his promises to fix the economy and bring jobs to everyone are buoyed by people's perception of him as a self-made rags-to-riches billionaire.
So what if he doesn't have much of an action plan? He's not a lawyer, he's a superhero. He projects strength and independence, and that gives his voters hope.
Can he actually win?
Nobody really thinks so. He doesn't have enough support.
He can, however, change the game for both parties if he decides to run independently. If he does so, he may not have the votes to win outright, but he definitely has enough to make a serious dent in the Republican party's chances and give a huge edge to the opposition Democratic Party. Media watchers have predicted that if Trump launches a third-party campaign, it's almost completely certain that Democrat Hillary Clinton will be the next US president.
But would he really let that happen if he's so opposed to Democrat principles?
Immigrant-bashing aside, Trump isn't as avowedly Republican in his views as one might think. In the past, he has donated to the Democratic Party, and supported universal health care, increase in taxes and abortion rights--all key issues the Democratic Party has espoused. He even donated to Hillary Clinton, who he was friends with once.
What do his fellow Republican Party candidates think of him?
It's safe to say not many in the party are thrilled about Trump and the way he's conducting his campaign. Not only has he been hogging the limelight, his comments have shocked even hardliners in the party. Reactions to him have ranged from wary silence to calling him "the world's biggest jackass" and "a cancer on conservatism". But no matter how much of a headache he is, the party is wary of alienating him enough to make him launch a third-party campaign.
Recent comments by Trump have suggested that he might do just that if he doesn't get "fair treatment" by his party. Given how devastating that would be to the Republicans' chances, the party may be more than willing to give him as much "fair treatment" as he wants, including political leverage in his business - which some suggest may have been exactly what he's been after from the start.
What does the media feel about him?
Many in the American media have been debating over what kind of coverage to give Trump and whether or not to stop covering him altogether. The Huffington Post has already announced it's relegating him to its entertainment section, and other media houses have attacked him personally - a bit of a low blow, but not completely uncalled-for, considering Trump hasn't been above personal attacks on his rivals (he accused one of wearing new glasses to appear smart, called another "terrible" and gave out a third's personal cell phone number at a campaign rally).
But delightful though blacking him out may be and as much fun as it is to unite against a common enemy, it shouldn't be up to the media to be able to pick and choose which candidates it wants to cover and whose views have merit. That's for the electorate to decide, and chances are, they'll make the right decision.