I think it’s a phenomenon very similar to the Brexit vote in Britain. There have been a lot of people in the United States who have felt not only left out of decision-making, but have felt that their interests are not being reflected by those in power. I think that has been amplified by the tendency of progressives in this country – and perhaps by the EU – to have certain decisions that would traditionally have been put to the people, or at least to their representatives in congress or parliament, made by people who don’t face election. Here, it’s federal agencies who declare that carbon dioxide, for example, is a pollutant, that coal plants have to be shut down, that cigars have to be regulated. Nobody voted on those things. They were declared, by people who are really unaccountable to the voters.
A significant number of people have felt not only that their interests are being harmed by those decisions, but that there’s something really wrong when, in what’s supposed to be republic, the people aren’t asked – and their representatives aren’t asked – to weigh in on these issues. Immigration is one that Donald Trump has tapped into. There has been a feeling festering for a while that immigration rates are very high, and that the mix of people coming in has been different, and that the policies of the Obama administration have really not prioritised the interests of Americans. That has led to a lot of discontent.
I was a Ted Cruz guy during the nomination process. But I did watch a lot of Trump’s rallies on C-SPAN, and there was something about them they did make me realise that the power of his personality was a very significant factor. I’ve never seen anything like this. Other politicians give canned stump speeches. They’ll interact with the audience to an extent, but they’ll stay on script. Trump gave the impression of just winging it the entire time. It was somewhat bizarre, very stream of consciousness, lots of interactions with the crowd. It was peculiar, and yet it was in some ways mesmerising.
This is someone who has been a reality TV star, and knows how to use the media in this way. It was strangely absorbing. I found myself watching for an hour and hardly noticing the time had gone by. Overall, what comes across isn’t anger or hostility. It’s much more just, “I’m on your side.” I think that’s been the source of his appeal. There’s a sense that the internationalism of people like Obama and Clinton really subordinates the interests of the United States to that vision.
People feel there is something genuine about Trump – that here’s a politician telling you what’s actually on his mind, rather than running it through focus groups. He has been able to make certain people that somebody is concerned about them. The debates are not a format that is kind to him, but at a typical campaign rally, he comes across as genuine, which a lot of politicians don’t. It’s beyond the flamboyance and so forth. There is a content to the message. It reminds me, actually, of the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign, where one of the main themes was just, “I feel your pain.” Trump has struck an emotional chord with people.