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How Do We Think About “The Trump Effect?”

By Andrew Cha

This nation, since its birth, has witnessed a trend regarding the type of persons who campaign for the highest office in the land.  Sure there has been the “everyman” candidate such as Andrew Jackson, and even a Hollywood movie star in Ronald Reagan; but history has shown that most U.S. presidential candidates have been of two types: wealthy, white-collar politicians (like Mitt Romney or Bill Clinton), or war heroes (like Dwight Eisenhower or Ulysses Grant).

In this regard, voters of the Republican Party in 2016 are faced with an unusual situation.  Of course, there are the “normal” candidates: the Canadian-born Texas senator who is hated by most of his congressional peers, as well as  the Florida senator who looks like as if he is still in college.  Leading the race, however, is the one and only Donald J. Trump.

The billionaire businessman and reality TV personality currently is the presumptive Republican nominee for president. He not only attracts a large amount of media attention (positive and negative), but brings out record numbers of Republican party voters, and has thus changed the presidential campaign process in three interesting ways.

 The first relates to his “shock” style of political stumping.    Every day Trump makes headlines in a way that no other candidate has done before — his manner of speech both offends the public while gaining new supporters among them.  This brashness has also influenced the tenor of the Republican debates, where Trump continuously attacks rival candidates to a point where those running for the executive director of the United States, resemble two elementary school students hurling insults in the cafeteria.  Trump’s bullying essentially brings out the worst in his opponents (and his supporters), encouraging them to act in ways that we have never seen before in presidential politics.

 Second, Trump has capitalized on others underestimating him.  Back in July, when Trump announced his candidacy, the Republican establishment scoffed at the businessman’s campaign, confident that Trump would never come close to winning the party’s nomination.  Trump used the Party’s rejection of him as a tool to pit the public against the “Establishment.”  This outrageous strategy  has surprisingly worked.  Now that Trump has won convincingly in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and a slew of other states, Republican party gatekeepers must come to the frightening realization  that the New York tycoon is now the top contender for the general election.  

 The third way Trump has changed presidential campaigns is through the politics of being “politically incorrect.”  Trump has made a virtue out of being unafraid to say the wrong thing, and has been undeterred in breaking all conventional wisdoms with bold populist statements.  He blatantly ridicules different demographic groups in order to divide citizens in a way no other U.S. political figure has ever had the arrogance to do.  Unlike his fellow candidates, Trump prefers simple messages (e.g, the somewhat stale “Make America Great Again”) that appeal to base instincts of the electorate while showcasing his confidence.  He blames others for America’s economic troubles, and promises everything to everyone, making the media watch with anticipation for the next outrageous statement  which they know will offend them even more than the last.

  But what does the “Trump effect” necessarily mean?  

 Although Trump has not won the presidency yet, his campaign will forever influence future American politics.  Trump’s success will expand the range of people who might consider throwing their hat into politics, including Hollywood celebrities or multi-million dollar hedge fund managers who lack political experience, but like Trump have limitless egos.  This lack of political experience, in turn, will “dumb down” campaign messages, focusing on insults rather than policy specifics, as well as create an atmosphere in which those who shout the loudest gain the most attention, instead of those who have the best plan for the country.   

  Ultimately, Trump’s success can only be explained as a perfect storm: an angry electorate, a media that frames news as entertainment to boost ratings, and a narcissist who is unafraid to debase our country’s political atmosphere.  Although we may not realize it, Trump has opened an unfamiliar chapter in history that American politics was never supposed to read.


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