The primary season is now well underway, and the Trump bandwagon continues to gather pace. Like most observers, I thought it would run out of steam well before this stage. Trump delights in the kinds of vicious attacks and stupidities that would derail any other candidate. His lack of shame and indifference to truth give him a kind of imperviousness to criticism. His candidacy no longer seems funny: it now arouses more horror than humor for many observers. Given that Trump is so awful – so bereft of genuine ideas, of intelligence, and obviously of decency – what explains his poll numbers?
While many Republicans disapprove of him strongly (a sufficient number, I suspect, to sink him when the field thins and the non-Trump vote is less divided among candidates), around one third support him. No doubt there are many reasons. Disillusionment with mainstream politicians (on both sides) is understandable, perhaps even warranted. So is despair at the loss of jobs in the US and the state of the economy. Trump’s very failure to offer specific proposals may allow people to project any fantasies they like onto him. And his scapegoating of minorities offers the white working class, which has seen real wages fall and unemployment rise, a target for their anger.
I want to suggest that in addition to all these factors, a psychological mechanism may be playing a role in explaining Trump’s attractions to a substantial minority of voters. Trump is a very wealthy man. By one primary indicator, that means he is a successful person.
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