In recent years, there has been a faction within the GOP that has been attracted to the idea of a Washington outsider. Candidates like Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot found limited success, in 1992 and 1996, but their support petered out as the election progressed. In addition to outsider status, GOP voters like the idea of a candidate who is willing to take on the tough fights, which is at least part of the appeal of Scott Walker as he has a history of taking on unions and surviving a recall attempt. Donald Trump has checked both of those boxes for many voters, as he is an outsider and has presented himself as a fighter.
Moreover, it is clear that voters are responding to Trump’s tone, rather than how he’s handling the issues, especially immigration, which is a big selling point for Trump. Polling data has illustrated that GOP voters aren’t anti-immigrant, as many in the media have suggested after Trump’s poll numbers rose following his ill-conceived comments about Mexican immigrants. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver covered an ABC/Washington Post poll that showed 72 percent of Republicans supported a pathway to citizenship with requirements, while 37 percent supported a pathway to citizenship with no requirements.
So it seems that GOP voters are responding to Trump on a much more visceral level. While Jeb Bush has recently decided to take on lobbyists, Trump has been taking on the media and the Obama administration. While lobbying reform may be a noble endeavor, it’s not the type of issue that resonates with the average primary voter.
Trump’s candidacy has played off the discontent that many GOP voters have had with the Republican establishment for years, but he has capitalized on it in a manner that is new and interesting. Trump’s skill with the media is apparent, as he has taken nearly every opportunity to appear on the media and, in many cases, rail against it. Trump knows how to use the press, as he’s had plenty of practice, and has used his experience to take center stage, but what remains to be seen is how long he can stay there.
Frank Cannon is the president of American Principles in Action.