The Grand Old Party of American politics is set to choose its most eccentric and, potentially, most dangerous candidate for the world’s most powerful elected office. With John Kasich and Ted Cruz dropping out of the race, Donald Trump has a clear path to the Republican Party nomination in July.
Trump is an oddity; he has never held elected office or been associated with Republican politics in the past. He is also peculiar because he is not really rightwing. He is a genuine populist, merging leftwing economic policies with nativist positions on immigration and minorities. Trump has defied conventional politics by not creating a grassroots structure, spending little on advertising and disdaining endorsements by local party officials.
Trump’s selling point has been exactly that: He is not part of the system that governs the US. It is now evident that a significant portion of young, working class white Americans are unhappy with the polity that governs them. At the heart of this has been the stagnant incomes experienced by US workers for 40 years. Merged with the financial crises, a sense of a weakening US and, arguably, a sense of marginalisation in a society they once dominated, working class whites have sought candidates well beyond the pale. Trump has served this purpose. But his echo on the left is Bernie Sanders, a socialist politician who only joined the Democratic Party a few years ago. Sanders is unlikely to win his party candidacy, but he is giving the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, a run for her money. Sanders also has a predominantly white base but his followers are better educated and more youthful than Trump’s.
Trump used a variety of showman tricks — mixed with a dash of luck — to win his nomination. But he is staggeringly unpopular outside the Republican Party. Even within the party, Trump elicits strong negative ratings. He will now have to transition towards the political centre to win the independent voter, the non-partisan block that makes up 40% of the electorate. That shift will unfold over the next several months. It will, hopefully, reveal the true nature of a Trump presidency — or show that he has even greater acting skills than people realise.