You already hear the whispers. People you would not believe could be Trump supporters are voicing silent acquiescence to his candidacy. You hear it from intellectuals, the business community, and, surprisingly, from some blacks who view the Trump candidacy as a chance to break out of some of the stale patterns that have come to dominate racial politics. Many associate America’s continued success with their own personal fortunes, and some believe Mr. Trump can deliver on his promise to “make America great again.”
One would like to think the nation’s intelligentsia calmly and rationally arrived at this conclusion. But it has not. In fact, Mr. Trump may win in spite of their influence. If he continues on his current trajectory, book upon book will be written to chronicle such an unorthodox rise. No one truly could have predicted just what Mr. Trump has tapped into.
The normal political logic has been turned on its head when it comes to describing Mr. Trump’s appeal to an increasingly large segment of the American people. He has turned insult and diatribe into a virtue masquerading as a sword of truth against the evil of political correctness. Mr. Trump’s unabashed predilection for saying the unmentionable has in a sense rendered him impervious to criticism. His refusal to apologize even when seemingly cornered is viewed by his supports as evidence of his courage.
One of the most notable instances of Mr. Trump’s obstinate refusal to concede occurred Sunday on a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, when he refused to distance himself from white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, stating “You wouldn’t want me to disavow a group that I know nothing about I will do research on them, and certainly disavow if I thought that there was something wrong.”
To call that statement disingenuous would be treating it kindly. The tycoon certainly knows who Mr. Duke is, and should not be given a pass for refusing to disavow the Klan on the basis of not having “done enough research.”
But despite this and other blatant flirtations with racism, people are continuing to line up behind him. It hardly matters what he says any more because his statements have gone far past the limit of the dial on the shock-meter. No matter what happens in this election, Mr. Trump has irreversibly altered the nature, tone and style of politics in this country. He has evolved as the founding archetype of the unfiltered candidate — impolitic, and proudly so.
“Trump” is no longer merely a brand. He has in essence become a movement, albeit one with no clear, specific aims other than its broad slogan — “Make America Great Again.” The genius of this mantra is that it means so many different things to different people, and Mr. Trump clearly knows this. Part of his refusal to get cornered into specific policy positions or denounce certain groups comes from his desire to avoid being defined in terms other than those of his own choosing.
But the voting public is not alone in its indolence. Because of Mr. Trump’s entertainment value, the media have largely avoided a role in vetting him as a candidate in the manner others were. The media exhaustively vetted Ben Carson, even delving into a discussion of whether his breakthrough accomplishments in the field of medicine ultimately left his patients better off. They vetted Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, calling into question their records as elected officials.
But somehow Mr. Trump got a pass, and not because there are no obvious — dare I say, glaring — opportunities for further exploration in all areas of Mr. Trump’s public life and persona. The media has gotten so used to being able to just publish juicy tidbits of his scintillatingly unvarnished statements and generating outstanding ratings because of it that most pundits feel no need to actually do their homework.
What is it that we are missing about the popular appeal of this man who has marched on the national stage and taken it by storm? He has defied all conventional logic and broken all the rules, yet appears to be winning. We need to take a closer look at what is driving this new phenomenon. But in order to do so, we first have to take our heads out of the sand and finally acknowledge the reality of the situation: Donald Trump is a force to be reckoned with.
• Armstrong Williams is manager and sole owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and executive editor of American CurrentSee online magazine.