WASHINGTON. D.C. — For the last six months, pundits have offered theories about why Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has become such a political powerhouse.
Trump has dominated the polls nationally for the past seven months, and last week he doubled up on his closest competitor in the Alabama Republican primary, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), 43 percent to 21 percent.
A lot of pundits chalked up Alabama and his other dominating victories to voter anger, and Trump himself has acknowledged anger is a component of his appeal.
“We have a lot of people,” Trump said in an interview last month with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I’m representing people. I’m not representing myself. I’m representing a lot of anger out there. We’re not angry people, but we’re angry about how this country is being run. And a lot of them are angry about how the Republican Party is being run.”
Is it really just the anger, though?
Last week’s Alabama primary suggests otherwise. If you look down the ballot, the races that were thought to be made interesting by the presence of Trump turned out to not be close.
In the U.S. Senate primary, Sen. Richard Shelby — the five-term incumbent — avoided a runoff in a race that was supposed to be much closer. Shelby defeated his closest competitor by nearly 40 points. Despite his efforts to present himself as non-status quo, 30 years in the U.S. Senate suggests otherwise.
In Alabama’s second congressional district, Rep. Martha Roby handily defeated Becky Gerritson by 40 points.
Closer to home, Rep. Bradley Byrne once again defeated Dean Young, but this time by 20 points, which was four times the margin by which he beat him in the 2013 Republican primary runoff.
If voters are truly angry, they’re not showing it anywhere on the ballot except for in the presidential primaries.
There might be some anger in the voting electorate, but it is just not as simple as that when trying to explain the Trump phenomenon.
They’re not wielding torches and pitchforks at Trump rallies. Sure, they’ll boo the media, but who is to say that isn’t warranted?
The excitement surrounding Trump has more to do with the celebrity. In the lead-up to Super Tuesday, Trump packed venues in Biloxi, Pensacola and Huntsville. Those attendees weren’t necessarily there because they were angry.
Compare this to the atmosphere prior to the 2010 midterms. There certainly was a degree of anger in the electorate after President Barack Obama and a Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid forced through Obamacare. There was also the passage of the TARP bailout and a $787 billion stimulus.
There was a fear that Obama was indeed following through with his pledge to fundamentally transform the country to a European socialist democracy.
The spark that ignited the Tea Party came from CNBC’s Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in February 2009. Santelli was concerned the Obama administration was going to make a push to bail out those affected by the housing crisis.
“The government is promoting bad behavior,” Santelli said. “Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages? This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage? President Obama, are you listening? How about we all stop paying our mortgage! It’s a moral hazard.”
Let’s compare that to Trump’s slogan, which is “Make America great again.” What sounds angrier to you?
There’s a lot more to the rise of Trump than anger. While it is rooted in celebrity, he also strikes chords of populism and nationalism. He openly defies political correctness. He also showcases his wealth and pledges to make the country rich.
It’s gaudy, uncouth and perhaps even vulgar to some, but it isn’t angry.
The description of anger seems to be more of an effort to marginalize Trump and the movement behind his campaign. When Trump’s critics deem it to be just a handful of Republican voters throwing an angry tantrum, it isn’t to be taken seriously.
But that has been the flaw with many of the strategies Trump’s opponents have employed to take him on. If you look at the graveyard of 2016 presidential bids, their common flaw was that Trump shouldn’t be taken seriously and anger wasn’t something that should guide someone’s vote.
If you were lectured like a child and told not to do something, wouldn’t you do it out of spite?
The country isn’t as angry as reported. Certainly things could be better, but dissatisfaction is not anger.
There are all sorts of examples throughout the history of western civilization where a populace was angry and revolted against the government. We’re not to the point of Hitler’s beer hall putsch or some kind of Orwellian two minutes of hate at Trump’s events.
If Trump is beaten, it won’t be because someone has successfully branded him and his supporters with anger. Instead, it will have to come from a different place, which is why any of the remaining candidates offer a better path forward than Trump. But time is running out.