Still, it’s a pretty impressive company. Occam’s razor blade explanation for Trump’s continued strength is that he is a good politician, more than he is commonly acknowledged.
There is much unique about Trump, for better and especially for worse: the provocations and nicknames, the drive to create his own reality immune to fact and rationality, the reluctance to honor basic norms, serial breakups and denunciations of its own officials, among other idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.
Most of this is to his detriment, not to mention his party and his country. Had Trump managed to behave a little more appropriately as president, he’d probably still be in office today. Alienating half of the electorate cost him in 2020, and if he wins the GOP nomination again it would be a major drag on his 2024 prospects.
The attachment of a substantial part of the GOP to Trump is usually attributed to his irrational connection to the former president. There is no doubt that his base will support almost everything he does and will find sometimes contradictory justifications for whatever needs to be justified at any given moment. That shouldn’t obscure the fact that Trump was the best politician in 2016, and he might as well be the best in 2024.
Beneath all of the Trumpian qualities is a politician with many of the traditional attributes long cultivated and prized by candidates and officials.
Ben Bradlee, the legendary executive director of The Washington Post, once fired a candidate because « Nothing makes a noise when he walks. » That sense of charisma and authority is even more important in politicians than journalists, and Trump, who has now played roles in three different realms — business, TV and politics — has the ability to command a room that can’t be taught or learned.
Since time immemorial, and certainly since the beginning of the mass media age, it has been important for a politician to have a personal magnetism and be able to attract attention. It is no coincidence that Ronald Reagan was a movie star. Barack Obama was never into entertainment, but Republicans disparagingly referred to him, an instant political star with an intensely devoted following, as a celebrity.
Compared to other politicians, Trump is a bit like Eddie Murphy described Elvis Presley, whom Murphy admires for his sheer « presence ». As Murphy said« When Elvis walked into a room, Elvis Presley was in the fucking room. »
Plus, Trump is a social person, whose never-ending appetite for small talk makes most extroverts seem reserved. For better or for worse (calling Nick Fuentes), he will talk to anyone, and was famously reachable by phone at the White House.
Not only that, as a longtime club owner, hosting and entertaining people is a professional obligation; he is perfectly capable of being nice when he wants to. This means that he has the good politician’s knack of putting someone at ease and making them seem important to them, before getting to the main event: Trump himself, of course, and whatever he might want.
One of the reasons she has earned so many accolades compared to the rest of the GOP field is that she is happy to ask for and lobby for them.
A key to political branding is repetition. Sometimes it can be difficult to get first-time candidates used to repeating themselves. This has never been a problem with Trump, who repeats himself constantly, sometimes multiple times in a couple of sentences, without even trying. They say it’s the biggest gathering ever. It was big. All that is talked about is how great it was.
Even as she goes off on tangents on her social media and attacks people for no real gain (Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, her former publicist Kayleigh McEnany), she’s relentlessly on the message overall. Just pay a little attention to him to understand that, according to him, he is ahead in the polls, unfairly targeted by the deep state and INNOCENT MAN.
Another quality of successful political leaders is optimism. Some grim realism may be required in a crisis, but there has to be a vision of something better at the end of the tunnel. Trump’s harsh portrayal of the present – during which we are destroyed by very stupid people in his account – can make it easy to miss his exaggerated support for the country when he was president, when everything was the biggest and best ever, from the economy to the army, and it will be once again.
As a businessman and celebrity, Trump has always painted in superlatives, and still does. If this leads to overpromising, this is a feature rather than a bug in terms of political appeal. As the great Zionist Theodor Herzl said, it is the simple and the fantastic that lead men. Trump seems to understand this adage somewhere in his bones. We should build a wall – simple. Mexico will pay for it – Fantastic. It will end the war in Ukraine – simple. In 24 hours – Fantastic.
Finally, authenticity is the winning coin in politics. Trump is astute, but not overtly calculating. Almost inadvisable, which his lawyers learned to their regret, Trump has an easy and free quality. He will say what he wants, especially about his opponents, who, on the contrary, think carefully about everything they will say about him, and often just hide and take cover.
In general, Trump’s approach is to believe the worst can happen, and if so, he will find a way around or through it. This can lead to catastrophic results: losing the 2020 election and denying it; fight with the feds over the papers and get indicted for it, but he never seems overwhelmed by any circumstance or he believes he could end up anywhere but the top.
None of this is to say it’s a block for the GOP nomination.
At the end of the day, Republicans could make a cold-eyed calculation that his luggage is simply too big, or someone else could catch fire. Nor is it denying that he would pose a huge risk as a candidate in the general election, or as president of the United States once again. No, it’s simply to say that one of the reasons Trump’s GOP opponents have so much trouble gaining traction is that the leader is good at politics, and in a strangely standard way.