Trumpism is a confusing phenomenon, and it is truly mind-boggling that Trump is doing as well as he is. His staying power is remarkable, especially due to his many controversial comments, seemingly contradictory positions, and utter lack of experience concerning politics or macroeconomic policy. Trump also has a history with the Democratic party, something that one would think should disqualify him from ever winning an increasingly partisan and entrenched Republican Party’s support. He is against cheap immigrant labor and free trade, so big business conservatives shouldn’t be supporting him, and his colorful language and litany of supermodel wives should discredit him with the evangelical block. Nevertheless, Trump maintains a 2:1 advantage over Rubio and Cruz, his two biggest rivals.
Of course, much of his support comes from men who often hail from working class, low-income and low-education backgrounds. What is surprising, though, is that he also leads all other Republican candidates with women, educated voters, and even evangelicals (despite famously calling 2nd Corinthians 2 Corinthians). Indeed, despite having massive unfavorablity ratings, he continues to perform exceedingly well in polls and among caucus goers. In short, he seems to violate every tenet of political science. Except maybe he doesn’t.
Median Voter Theorem argues that democratic systems tend towards moderate candidates because they cater to the median voter. That is why extremist candidates in the past have always lost out to more moderate ones (see Rick Perry and Herman Cain). Trump is an extremist in his language and his views on race, but he is actually far more moderate than many Republicans on a number of issues. For example, he doesn’t believe in mindless interventions around the world purely to “demonstrate resolve,” he doesn’t support all but eliminating taxes on the rich, and he is in favor of easy healthcare access, famously supporting the far more progressive Canadian and British healthcare systems. In this way, Trump is a perfect candidate for those that have grown tired of Republican’s worship of big business and seeming preference for solving the problems of Middle Eastern countries over addressing the myriad problems at home, yet who are also sick of the Left’s political correctness and highfalutin intellectual elitism. In a sense, Trump is an ideal bridging candidate for urban, blue collar workers who are simply fed up with mainstream politics. A friend of mine recently pointed out that Trump supporters all must suffer from some degree of cognitive dissonance, and this is true. Trump’s positions seem to change every day. Nevertheless, to many this dissonance is good because it isn’t the extreme, stifling ideology of the mainstream Republicans and Democrats. It is, in some sense, the most “median” position any candidate has taken.
This theory is, of course, imperfect, and to be clear, I do not support Trump AT ALL. He is decidedly not moderate in his view of Muslims and minorities, his foreign policy is a joke, and his “understanding” of economics is frankly terrifying. Seriously, with his economic ineptitude it’s miraculous he was as successful as he was. Nevertheless, he is also somewhat decoupled from politics and has been willing to articulate a policy platform that is ideologically distinct from traditional conservatism and liberalism. I think this is ultimately what is driving his huge support. He is able to capture a segment of the population that feels marginalized by the both parties’ mainstream candidates. This, coupled with his impressive ability at self-promotion, is what I believe is providing him his incredible amount of support. I’ll I can say is that I sincerely hope that his powerful base of support proves insufficient to vault him into the White House.