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9 things Donald Trump did to make himself the Republican frontrunner

29th March 2016
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How did Donald Trump get this far?

It’s a question the whole world is asking, and with good reason – after success at the Arizona Primary last week, Donald Trump currently stands with a two in three chance of giving a victory speech at the Republican convention in Ohio at the end of July.

As it turns out, an unexpected combination of factors – from viral news suitability to a policy of well-trodden political rhetoric – have combined to plunge the billionaire with the ridiculous hair into the US conservative driving seat.

We look at the evidence.

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Harnessed the power of social media

The numbers read more like those of a reality TV player than a GOP frontrunner: almost seven and a half million twitter followers, with 46,000+ retweets in the past 24 hours alone (as of 4pm, Tuesday). Over 135,000 tweets favourited in the same time.

Politics in the age of social media, The Economist points out, is changing democracy – and the world of instant gratification and perceived endorsement via clicks makes the whole system of “politics and collective action more chaotic.”

Social media popularity for politicians works in the same way that online petitions do: starting small, before gradually tugging on the emotive heartstrings of more and more people. These people are likely to be extroverts, who are “sensitive to social information” – and we might argue, in need of personal endorsement.

The Economist states that “As a result, if a petition’s initial audience includes enough people with the right mindset, it can quickly take off... Politics in the age of social media are thus better understood by chaos theory than by conventional social science.”

So, they sign. Or, in this case, they vote.

Benefited from the Republicans dividing their loyalties

According to The Economist, US nominations are often predictable because the party has picked its leader early – which is why the media didn’t take Trump’s campaign seriously at first.

There is, however, “no guarantee that the party will in fact decide. Sometimes its various factions cannot come to agreement, and divide their support among rival candidates.

“That was what happened on the Republican side in 2015, when the endorsement leader, Jeb Bush, received only a fraction of the statements of support that had gone to previous front-runners.”

The lack of uniting over legitimate candidates, therefore, left a veritable power vacuum – which Trump successfully swept into.

Championed isolationism

Trump has just declared victory in Arizona, a border state where his planned wall would have a very visible impact. He partly did this through support from well known Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an extremely divisive anti-immigration figure in a state that appears increasingly worried about those pushing in from beyond the Mexican border.  

Longer term, Trump has used a (rather redneck) fear of the “other” invading the Land of the Free as a basis for his campaign, partly bolstered by an aggressive policy towards the Middle East – and an apparent disregard for any consequences this might have.

With a volatile international situation and many Americans feeling that years of intervention in the Middle East have only put their idyll at risk, it’s unsurprising that this self-preserving policy has caught people’s emotions nationwide.

Rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric

It’s potentially the oldest political tool in the book, first codified in Ancient Rome and defined by Aristotle as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" – and it’s something that many of history’s most divisive politicians have had in absolute spades. 

Trump uses the art of emotively persuading an audience via discourse to its extreme. Just look at one of the most basic factors that make up rhetoric – repetition. He’s “making America great again” whilst “beating Hillary” on an almost daily basis.

Nothing like hammering the message home, is there?

And that’s before we get started on his hyperbolic reaction to being wronged – his proposed wall, he declared after being vetoed by Mexico, “Just got ten feet higher!”

Utilised a “penchant for earthy language” 

According to Georgetown University Professor Jennifer Scafani in ThinkProgress, Trump has made an art of “turning political discourse into reality TV” – through both his single syllable words and his habit of speaking with his arms and hands held outward. Verbose and over the top gestures are apparent every time he speaks in public.

Compare this to the thumb and index finger mannerism that is a staple of Obama’s speeches, in which he is literally making a point with his hand. Trump, with his strong rhetoric and lack of detail paired with his short words and open body language, is suggesting the opposite.

This, it can be argued, subconsciously sets him as an anti-establishment figure when compared to his political rivals, and in turn as someone who might appear to provide a viable alternative to certain sections of the US electorate.

Demonstrated his expertise in authoritative propaganda

The claims Trump makes may seem ridiculously sweeping and groundless – but what they lack in specifics or fact actually means they’re so broad that it’s impossible to argue with them in a logical way.

As The Economist says, In this subjective arena you can continue to assert that, say, thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the attacks of September 11th, 2001, or that Russian troops did not invade Ukraine, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“The trick is just to keep saying it, until the naysayers give up. This sort of insistence leaves an impression, even among sceptics of these arguments, that there must be something to them.” 

Establishing a comparison with Vladimir Putin, the Economist points out the confidence that this “post-fact world” suggests: “They do it to show that they can—with impunity.”

Many admire this flat-out confidence and the perceived power than comes as part of it, whilst others start to somehow believe the old adage that there really is no smoke without fire.

Dominated the media

Like a walking, rhetoric-spouting, humanised example of clickbait, Trump relies on the suggestibility of a media that needs more clicks RIGHT NOW to ensure that what he says stays in the public conversation - constantly.

That media, for a large amount of Trump supporters, is not diverse or liberal: it’s right wing, entrenched in its views, bolstered by perceived threats to the American way of life - and they trust it because it’s been their go-to website/TV channel/newspaper of choice for years.

The liberal rest, meanwhile, read about the absurdities of the Trump machine on a daily basis, whether they can believe that it’s sliding into power or not.

As Mail Online demonstrates today, and as Oscar Wilde pointed out - if people are constantly reading what you’re saying it doesn’t really matter whether they hate it or not. In terms of seizing power, the only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you. And of course, everyone is talking about Donald.

Avoided answering the big questions

Behind all this rhetoric there lays the fact that Trump hasn’t actually revealed much about his plans if elected to office, instead avoiding details with such declarations as “We will totally dismantle Iran’s global terror network, which is big and powerful—but not powerful like us,” and “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain.”

Aside from that “big, big wall” (there’s that rhetorical repetition again) he’s been fairly quiet on the minutiae of immigration and foreign policy - meaning, as the BBC’s North America reporter Anthony Zurcher points out, that foreign leaders currently have no “connections for their questions.”

This lack of details gives opponents and foreign powers less power to challenge or breakdown his plans, because they’re still in the dark as to what they actually are.

As Zurcher says, “Want details on how the New Yorker would restructure US trade relations with China? Or how he would implement his proposed Muslim immigration ban? Good luck finding out.”

Paid close attention to his rivals’ failures

And finally: when someone (possibly within Jeb Bush’s now shamefaced campaign team) failed to renew the domain JebBush.com, it quickly redirected to – you guessed it – a page in support of the now Republican frontrunner. DonaldJTrump.com’s new homepage even featured a link to donate to his own presidential race.

There’s nothing like giving your rival a leg up whilst simultaneously shooting yourself right in the foot, eh Jeb?

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