Originally Published 2015-10-05 09:02:54 Published on Oct 05, 2015
Donald Trump has become the most familiar face in the line-up of GOP Presidential hopefuls. Despite his lacklustre performance during the second Republican debate in California, he is leading the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls.
US Polls: Explaining Donald Trump's popularity
Donald Trump has become the most familiar face in the line-up of GOP Presidential hopefuls. Despite his lacklustre performance during the second Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, he is leading the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls. Donald Trump's remarks on social, domestic and foreign policy issues appear strange and sometimes misogynistic. His policies are exceedingly light on intellectual credibility and his rhetoric high on populism, xenophobia, nationalism and ideals of protectionism. Yet he continues to dominate the opinion polls, approval ratings and magazine covers and analysts are unable to write-off his political adventure. What explains the 'Trump' phenomenon in America's electoral politics? Why does Donald Trump with his lack of real policy proposals continue to dominate the political discourse? Simplistic assertions of Trump's popularity being consistent with early-cycle flirtations by base voters are fast losing currency as poll numbers continue to favour him.

The 2016 Republican presidential race is being touted as the outsiders' game ' where candidates outside the political establishment are currently leading the race for the nomination. The National polls of Republican voters show that Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are gaining more popularity as opposed to candidates with storied political resumes such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Assertions like anti-establishment candidates are leading the GOP nomination horserace capture the reasoning of Trump's soaring popularity only to an extent. A Bloomberg report graph covering the second Republican debate showed that Trump dominated all the different categories on which the candidates were evaluated 'Words Spoken; Questions Received; Rebuttals Made; Successful Interruptions; and Mentions by Other Candidates. Trump's campaign success is largely based on the force of his personality. Despite his 'fact-free' self-branding and malignant form of politics, Trump receives disproportionate public support and media coverage only due to his ability to read sinews of the common man. His three official position papers arrest the attention of voters' base with a populist agenda on key issues such as tax, immigration and gun laws.

Trump's latest tax plan proposes to eliminate income tax for millions of Americans while simultaneously maintaining that wealthy Americans and businesses would also pay less tax under his plan. This plan is expected to simplify the tax code and provide major tax relief for middle income families as tax is eliminated for people earning less than $25,000 and married couples jointly earning less than $50,000. Edward Kleinbard, a law professor and tax expert at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law, states that Trump's tax plan is not completely irrational. He adds, "Trump wants to tax profits that companies earn abroad at the time they are earned, just like domestic profits. That would help end the practice of American companies parking their profits overseas because they are now taxed only upon repatriation." While the proposal to tax American companies on the profits they make abroad would generate enthusiasm among the vast majority of middle-class Americans, such a populist agenda serves a bitter blow to the Republican establishment's consensus on issues which are fundamental to the GOP such as taxation.

Reagan's Three-Legged Stool' a coalition of fiscal, social and national security conservatives has dominated the Republican Party since 1980. Any attempt to potentially destabilize the three-legged stool consensus would receive stiff opposition from the GOP's base. Trump's charisma lies in his ability to strike a fine balance between propagating a populist agenda which undercuts GOP's consensus on one hand while wooing the party's base with conservative racism against Hiic immigrants on the other. This ability to keep the American people near and the GOP conservative base nearer by oscillating between centerright to extreme right on the political spectrum has contributed to his authoritative lead in the early polls. The challenge for Trump vis-à-vis other candidates who are running more traditional and substantive campaigns (Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) is that soon pollsters who support Trump would want to know more details of his roadmap such as how he wishes to debar 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country without generating a backlash. Trump's continued success would depend on his ability to spell out specifics in policy proposals and take Analyses 3 advantage of American people's expectation to rally behind a candidate who cannot be bought.

(The writer is a Junior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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