The Republican convention made clear that their strategy this year is to lock down their electoral base, stir them up, and hope they come out to vote in unprecedented numbers. They painted what has been described as a dystopian vision of America, one besieged by terror abroad and chaos and disorder at home, one where economic rot and ruin hamper aspirations, one where government corruption is rampant and pernicious, one where a humiliated America projects weakness around the world in both trade and military affairs.
Donald Trump claims he "alone can fix it" as if by force of personality. He is charismatic and projects a swaggering attitude. Calls himself a winner. Asserts he is stronger and better than any of his rivals. Claims to be a "counter puncher": he doesn't start fights, but he knows how to end them.
In my view, this is precisely what his base (and at least a plurality of the Republican base) wants in its candidate. It is less his principles and policies and knowledge of the issues—or, I would submit, his bleak world view—and more an attitude of superiority and a politics of dominance they want from their candidate. This is slightly different from the traditional, principled conservative Republican approach—but only in degree, not kind. It substitutes charismatic force of personality for conservative principles, but is more concerned with the personal bona fides of the candidate than with whether that candidate's policies will address, much less solve, the problems confronting the country.
Trump projects the image of a wealthy businessman. He is handsome and charismatic. He lives a lavish lifestyle of fame and riches. He has his own jet plane. He is married to a former super model and has doting, beautiful, brilliant, devoted children. His largely male, largely disaffected base identifies with him though most can only dream of having these things.
Trump's partisans feel aggrieved, feel they too deserve this sort of lifestyle. But something is preventing them from attaining these things. And Trump aptly articulates a litany of potential scapegoats (Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Politically Correct Liberals, Establishment Conservatives who have betrayed the base, etc.) to explain why they don't. They want a champion—a counter-puncher—to help them vanquish these bogey men that have put them down and knocked them out. The want Trump to help them reclaim their own personal swagger. And that is precisely what he promises. If Trump wins, America wins; and if America wins, they win. Trump alone is great; only Trump can make America great again; and when America regains its greatness so will his followers.
Trump wants to be seen as the anti-Establishment candidate. And he is without question a political outsider: he is an American businessman and reality television entertainer/celebrity who has never held political office. As the outsider, he is content to pick fights with Establishment figures even in his own party, including everyone from Jeb(!) Bush to Ted Cruz to Paul Ryan to John McCain to Mitt Romney. These feuds only enhance his cachet with his base.
But these intraparty spats are merely the preliminary bouts to his big confrontation with the ultimate Establishment figure: Hillary Clinton. Clinton, to Trump and his base, personally embodies all the evils in the system. By showing he can dominate the entrenched GOP bigshots, he hopes to show he can dominate Clinton and, by the projective principle of transference, dominate the system and, ultimately, the world on behalf of his disaffected followers.
[And, I would note, it is with this anti-Establishment, anti-Hillary appeal—a structural appeal, that is to say—that he specifically reaches out to supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost a hard-fought, passionate insurgency campaign against Clinton. Apparently, Trump hopes Sanders' young, idealistic supporters will look past the vast substantive disconnect between the progressive things they want their 'revolution' to accomplish and the policies espoused by Trump and his GOP base and join Trump's anti-Establishment 'movement'.]
(End Part 2)