The words bully, showman, party crasher and demagogue were each ticked off in red in four boxes across a monochrome close-up of Donald Trump’s face on a recent Time magazine cover. As Washington political and PR consultant Mike Miley says, the best political communicator in the US presidential race is marching to the Republican nomination and no one seems to know how to stop him.
As the presidential race prepares for the New York primaries next Tuesday, Trump may find himself going all the way to convention in Cleveland in July. Of the 10 contested Republican conventions, only three have been won by the frontrunner. To win the Republican (aka GOP) nomination, Trump must get 57pc of the required majority of 1,237 votes. As things stand, he’s got 743 votes while his closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is on 545.
Trump may be a wild card, but he’s a dab hand at sucking the oxygen out of the room and pushing up his ratings. His campaign ads mirror his crowded and often unruly rallies. Trump’s Force One jet plays backdrop as ‘silent majority’ discontents’ cry out for making America great again by barring Muslims, punishing women who have abortions and making the Mexicans pay for the wall to stem border crossings. Concrete policies give way to soundbites, built on a wafer-thin platform of vitriol and hubris.
Miley, who worked with Dublin PR agency MKC Communications and as a Fine Gael press officer, says the Doonbeg Golf Resort owner has caused havoc for the Republicans. “White voters ignored, supported or didn’t care about the racism, bigotry, lies, vulgarity and violence as they liked what Trump was saying and how he said it,” Miley says. “He was a political slogan writ large that stood in contrast to everything else in politics – and decent society. He knew he could say what he wanted and get away with it. They lapped it up.”
As US political journalist David Von Drehle says: “Trumpism is rooted in anxiety over lost American greatness, which, in reality, may not even be lost. It wallows in a sense that the country is adrift in seas plied by cunning foreign adversaries. It is a roll of the dice in a garish casino – exactly the kind of bet that has been very, very good to Trump in the past.”
Trump cut out the middleman in what’s called ‘disintermediation’; party, press and pollsters went as he his message direct to voters. The D-word first came into play about 50 years ago to describe changes in banking. More recently, it returned as consumers moved online to buy products; from airline tickets to books, holidays to Netflix subscriptions.
The perception up to now has been that Trump only attracts disaffected white, blue collar workers. Yet exit polls show his support stretches from moderates to conservatives, poorly educated to well educated, men and women. Of course, his fans are overwhelmingly white, but so too are Republican voters, Miley insists.
Trump boasts he’s “the most successful person ever to run for President. I built an incredible business. But I also created, in The Apprentice, one of the most successful shows in TV history. I’ve written 12 books, most of them best sellers. The Art of the Deal is the No. 1 best-selling business book of all time.”
The Donald is a lifetime teetotaller who sips away on Diet Coke. His older brother Fred died of alcoholism at 42. He loves playing to the cameras. After calling rival candidate Marco Rubio “little Marco Rubio, the lightweight”, he pointed at a Fox News caption that read: ‘News outlets around the world are covering Trump’. For him, the key word was covering.
Trump, who turns 70 in June, has become more considered in his campaigning, in the knowledge he must win over Tea Party members repulsed by the idea of having a thrice-married, casino mogul, reality TV star as its candidate. Cruz, a deeply religious man whose ads show him saying prayers before meals with his family, has the Bible beaters eating from his plate. But many Republicans don’t warm to Cruz, for whom Trump – sensing shiftiness – coined the name ‘Lyin’ Ted’. Senator John McCain labelled Cruz “a jackass”.
Miley says some Republicans remain hell-bent on stopping Trump. Although he’s unlikely to clinch the GOP nomination by July – leading to the first contested convention since 1976 – he’s still the hot favourite. Republican Party establishment figures favour Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan being parachuted into the race in Cleveland.
With his youthful Irish looks and calm rhetoric, Ryan – Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate – is seen as being far more marketable when pitched against Hillary Clinton. The Time cover referred to at the start of this article had a blank box under which appeared the words: 45th President of the United States. Who knows if the box will earn a red tick.