A pompous, bloviating, colorful New Yorker with delusions of grandeur, a savvy, veteran businessman with steely negotiation tactics and a “can-do” attitude, a crony capitalist who can point to where the bodies are buried, a crass, incompetent demagogue with a platinum blonde feral cat attached to his head, the populist id of the Republican party, America’s unsung savior: Mr. Donald J. Trump is all and none of these things, a man whose perceived identities shift drastically depending on whom you hear from. And yet, the Donald J. Trump Show has sold out across the world.
In the two months since he has announced his candidacy and assumed frontrunner status, a frenzied media like sharks to red meat has peppered him with questions to pin down just where he stands on the issues. Many in the Beltway boldly proclaimed that Trump’s support would fade away under scrutiny like Michele Bachman’s, Herman Cain’s, and Rick Perry’s in the 2012 election cycle. And yet it has not flagged, to the widespread bemusement of all observers beyond his supporters. Why?
The answer, just like Mr. Trump, might be deceivingly simple, and a lesson for the political class in both parties: he answers questions, he answers them directly, and he does not shy away from the answers he gives, no matter their offensive, racist, ludicrous, infeasible implications. His campaign is his personality, and he comes across as unstructured, unfiltered, and, as a result, sincere. He has talking points like the rest of the candidates running for president, but the delivery of his prepared remarks and off-the-cuff answers bears a striking similarity, his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies providing consistency between the mutually exclusive policy positions he holds. Voters see in all of this a refreshing lack of the calculation and polish that other candidates seem to choke on, and voters have responded favorably.
He foregoes the infamous politician’s pivot, where a candidate is asked a direct question on one issue and responds by speaking vaguely about the themes of his campaign relating to that one issue, and then proceeds to repeat his or her talking points. In other words, Trump doesn’t dodge questions; he gives them full-throated answers that provoke raised eyebrows.
So what can politicians like Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and other so-called establishment candidates learn from Mr. Trump? Indeed, it isn’t to disparage John McCain’s wartime service, use terms like “anchor baby,” or threaten to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. And if establishment candidates make a misstep, they certainly shouldn’t double down on them the way Trump has. But give answers. Show that your positions and beliefs stem from your heart and flow freely from your conversation. Demonstrate to the American people that you have the conviction that they do, that you have the intellectual and emotional capacity to know the policy inside and out while grounding your conversation in the passion you must feel for your country in order to believe that you can lead it as its President. Show that your campaign isn’t “joyless,” as the National Review has called Hillary’s, or “low-energy,” as Trump has repeatedly labeled Jeb Bush to raucous laughter and applause.
The Donald’s campaign is the finest example of style over substance, but the message of his stupendous early success in the polls is clear. The calculated style of the elites is out, and the spontaneity and populism of Donald J. Trump, and even Bernie Sanders, is in.