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Bombing the system into submission is Trump’s winning tactic

columns Updated: Mar 19, 2016 01:17 IST
Donald Trump

In the midst of this wall-to-wall coverage, the latest round of breathless punditry has yielded two outcomes – Hillary Clinton may be inevitable and Donald Trump remains incredible.(Agencies Photo)

Since February, the American primary election season has witnessed a Super Tuesday, and what cable news networks have termed Super Tuesday II and Super Tuesday III (CNN even snuck in a Super Saturday). This is somewhat like those sequels to Nightmare on Elm Street, yet another long-running horror franchise.

And in this midst of this wall-to-wall coverage (particularly when it relates to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s promise of a “beautiful” wall along the United States’ southern border and everyone keeps waiting for him to finally hit a wall), the latest round of breathless punditry has yielded two outcomes – Hillary Clinton may be inevitable and Trump remains incredible.

I actually wanted to avoid all things Trump this week, but sometimes you get transfixed by a phenomenon, somewhat like watching a wreck on the tracks, which may be apt since his supporters hashtag themselves #TrumpTrain.

Trump, according to one calculation, may have received nearly $2 billion worth of free media space, as against about a third of that amount for Clinton. What’s more fascinating is the evolving array of avatars of Teflon Don.

In the distant autumn of 2015, he emerged as an anti-immigrant activist attacking Mexicans like they were an outbreak of Zika. Once the Paris terror attacks occurred, he turned into a firebombing patriot, one who claimed that the body count at Bataclan may have been smaller had concertgoers had access to firearms, as Americans have. As the jobless gravitated towards him, he targeted trade pacts like NAFTA or the recent TPP, sounding more like Bernie Sanders than a billionaire. The attacks don’t have to be fact-based. Often during his rallies, town halls and his latest Super Tuesday speech, Trump will include India among the countries with unfair trade advantage over the United States, placing it on a par with China, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, even Vietnam. In this American age of anxiety and angst, Trump’s answer is often antagonism. Multiple wrongs are making for a vociferous right champion.

Each of these elements is part of his routine, which is founded on the principle of speaking loudly and carrying a big shtick. But recently Trump has painted himself as the injured party, even if the ones who’ve been left lame are the Republican establishment elite. After all, Trump is the 800-pound elephant in the room that everyone wants to evict in this televised game of Big Brother, but none has quite the heft to get it done.

He’s seized upon the sense of anti-establishmentarianism, warning of “riots” if there is a contested convention in Cleveland this summer. But reading the riot act has become part of his podium performance. After being nearly taken down by a protester in Dayton, Ohio, he linked the would-be ambusher to the Isis. As one rallygoer punched out a protester, he mused about paying legal fees for the former. And as violence broke out prior to a Chicago event, he told an interviewer on Fox News: “I have the right to speak” while adding, “My supporters…they are angry people. On top of everything else, they don’t even have the right to go into a pavilion and have a one-hour rally.”

It’s a line of attack he integrated into his ad-libbing stump speeches. “Do we have a protester? Do we have a disruptor?” he asked a cheering audience in Boca Raton, Florida. Though to be fair, he did say, “I don’t want anybody to be hurt, we want this to be a non-violent situation.” Trump defies logic much like the Obama Administration’s latest gift of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

This is part of a pattern, in which he has consistently channelled, on live television, the sense of victimhood among those who have rallied around him. And if the leftist group MoveOn organised the protests against him, he ought to send them a thank you card. “I actually think we’ll get more people,” he said, reacting to the Chicago smackdown. He may be right, as his Tuesday sweep of states other than Ohio indicates.

From vicious to victim to victory, that’s Trump’s formula for bombing the system into submission.