No one could have predicted over eight months ago when the Republican presidential field was flooded with over a dozen young, experienced, and accomplished politicians that they would all be summarily rejected for an eccentric Wall Street tycoon whose major accomplishments include being a reality TV star and running a chain of casinos into bankruptcy.
Now, just before the Iowa Caucus, conservatives despair and wonder whether their party can be salvaged at all. The Republican Party, and American conservatism itself, will be imperiled if Donald Trump receives the GOP nomination. If such a scenario does unfold, conservatives will be faced with the decision of electing Trump—at best a former crony capitalist Clintonite, and at worst a populist demagogue—or electing a member of the Democratic field, which boasts a criminal, a socialist, and some other guy.
Last week the conservative publication National Review tossed a Hail Mary to try to destabilize the Republican frontrunner, but, once again, it seems as though nothing can disenchant some Republicans of Trump’s vulgar allure.
His supporters have remained stubbornly loyal, and have intensified their distrust towards anyone who they feel is aligned with the Republican “establishment,” which could be just about anyone who dares to question the businessman.
Trump astoundingly remains ahead of a diverse Republican field filled with candidates who are infinitely more qualified than Trump to be the next commander-in-chief. He stayed ahead long enough to split conservatives over how to handle his candidacy: whether to vehemently oppose, passively accept, or zealously support him. Most conservatives agree that the Grand Old Party is in serious danger of fracturing because of the way Trump divided Republicans.
Aided by his army of social media followers, Trump took up the anti-establishment call started by the Tea Party movement and turned it to his advantage. Politicians such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who owe their elections to the grassroots activists, are now decried as part of the establishment elite.
Trump has formed his own voting bloc of passionate supporters who zealously defend their champion from any substantive criticism with the same inanities as The Donald himself. When National Review launched their “Against Trump” editorial campaign, the demagogue characteristically responded with a torrent of ad hominem tweets aimed at the twenty-two contributors.
Unfazed by National Review’s criticism, Trump has continued to stun political commentators as he has effortlessly shrugged off attacks on his platform, past, and character. Part of the reason Trump’s poll numbers have been so steady is his apparent immunity to criticism. Every time an interviewer reveals the reality TV star’s insufficient knowledge of world politics or points to his former political alignments, Trump withdraws to Twitter and attacks his antagonists while his supporters validate him with retweets.
Trump threw such a temper tantrum this past week because of an interview he had with Megyn Kelly, a respected and accomplished political commentator. As a result of the “unfair” treatment by the “lightweight reporter,” Trump asked his Twitter and Instagram followers whether he should go to the next debate.
While the GOP frontrunner’s supporters held a summit over social media platforms to decide whether they should send their demagogue to the pre-caucus debate, Fox released an antagonistic statement that made their decision a lot easier. Fox mocked Trump for his fragile ego, and sarcastically described Trump’s “secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers” who seem to be his main source of advice and encouragement.
Trump, incensed by the “childishly written & taunting PR statement,” declined to attend the debate and scorned the network, claiming that he is personally responsible for its high ratings. Without Trump, the debate was a refreshing flashback to when policy positions and platforms mattered, but the real estate mogul was still at the center of attention before, during, and after the debate, as pundits remarked on the performances in the context of Trump’s absence.
As an inexperienced, unqualified, and unknowledgeable politician, Trump has proven himself over this election season to be an astoundingly successful campaigner. He captivates his audience with the constant repetition of divisive rhetoric and violent imagery, and yet does not give a single point of substance beyond his original campaign promise of “[doing] various things very quickly … and I will build a great, great wall.”
Trump’s campaign genius has likely fundamentally changed the methods of campaigning, most notably through his masterful use of Twitter and other social media platforms. Through Twitter, @RealDonaldTrump can constantly talk directly to his supporters, unfiltered by the media. His impulsive, antagonistic, and forceful voice has complemented his strengths of repeating powerful, colorful, and antagonistic nonsense at his fans.
Trump, who has tweeted that Twitter is like “owning your own newspaper, without the losses,” has proven how powerful the social media platform can be in the hands of a presidential contender whose chief strategy has been maintaining the loudest and most dominant voice in the room.
During the late summer and early fall of 2015, Trump’s Twitter account was mentioned in 6.3 million conversations—three times more than Hillary Clinton and four times more than Bernie Sanders. He is also retweeted more than twice as often as Clinton. His twitter following of 5.94 million dwarfs that of the rest of the Republican field, and recently surpassed Hillary’s following, which it now outnumbers by almost 700,000 handles.
Trump’s uncensored stream of consciousness on Twitter has allowed him to rant and rave and hit the pressure points of disenchanted republican voters. Every week, Trump has kept the conversation about him, causing pundits to explain every political move by any Republican candidate in the context of the “Trump phenomenon.”
Alexis de Tocqueville once praised the press for being the “chief democratic instrument of freedom.” If ever there was a time when that was a fair assessment, it was certainly before the age of the internet, when Trump’s illiberal rabble-rousing is the top story every day. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a single Twitter account is now a medium with the same capability to influence voters as National Review.