Once you get past the distasteful and often offensive rhetoric, it’s easy to see what Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner for the White House, is doing.
He is simply serving up what a large number of Republican party members, and not their politically astute leaders, want to hear. Blame them, not just him — he is a package deal.
A new poll released Friday showed Trump holding on to his brutal lead despite his call for shutting out Muslims from the US, which outraged people around the world.
Most Republican voters surveyed for this Reuters/Ipsos poll — an overwhelming 64% — said that they were fine with the controversial call and only 29% found it offensive.
Trump may be on to something here — another poll found that in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, fears about a terrorist attack has been highest in the US since 9/11.
It would be tempting to say Trump has survived yet another blow that would have felled a lesser politician, but that would be missing the point —he is not a politician. Here is what he, more or less in his own words, has said he is: a hugely successful businessman, who is self-financing his campaign and, thus, doesn’t care about political correctness. But here is what Trump has also had to say about himself: he is not a bigot — he said he loves Muslims before turning upon them, he is not a racist, and he is not sexist — he loves women. That’s a lot of explaining Trump has had to do since he got into the race in June.
Party leaders, on the other hand, worry that if and when Trump leaves the race, he would have scared away every major voter demographic except the most loyal.
If he stays and wins the party nomination, they fear he won’t stand a chance against the Democratic nominee, most likely to be Hillary Clinton.
Trump opened his campaign last June by calling Hispanics criminals and rapists. NBC television fired him from Celebrity Macy’s, a countrywide retail chain cut links with him, commentators ripped him apart. And the Republican party panicked about its tenuous hold over Hispanics.
But Trump survived.
A few weeks later, Trump ripped into Republican senator John McCain, who spent five years in a Vietnam prison, questioning his war-hero status. But he survived.
At one of his rallies, a supporter referred to President Obama as a Muslim outsider. Trump made no attempt to correct the supporter, and got panned. He survived, and stayed ahead in polls.
He makes fun of people’s looks — including rivals Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul — and physical deformities, as he did with a New York Times reporter.
And he continues to lead polls and draw crowds.
He also makes news, and perhaps deliberately. The morning after his outrageous call for banning Muslims, Trump dominated morning TV, doing a string of phone interviews.
He was combative and unbending, but patient. This was free television time after all, something that could cost him millions. He knows the game well.
According to one analysis, between January and November, ABC, NBC and CBS gave 234 minutes to Trump, while Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz combined got 83 minutes.
Trump has the numbers, the support and the money to last the distance, and he is not urging the party to accept it, in his own typically sneery way. “I say, folks, you know, I’m sorry I did this to you, but you’ve got to get used to it. It’s one of those little problems in life,” Trump has said in an interview that airs on Sunday about the inevitability of his nomination.