Election 2016: Why is The Donald So Popular?

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The idea of a President Trump remains a punch line in the media, from The Daily Show to the Huffington Post. Huffington even went as far as to relegate its coverage of The Donald to its entertainment section, boldly declaring the businessman turned reality television star turned presidential hopeful to be a “sideshow”.

But is Trump really a sideshow? Far from it. Indeed, trying to label him as a joke is one of the most dangerous things the media, and Trump’s opponents could do.

Like it or not, Trump is in the race. And so far he is polling astonishingly well. In fact, he actually leads the Republican field in a number of polls. Those who laugh him off as a blowhard or a clown do so at their own peril.

That is not to say that Trump isn’t a blowhard or clown. He certainly is both. He has made a fortune on the back of loud-mouthed self-promotion. He plasters his name on every gaudy building he can reach. He prefers insulting people to actually engaging with their ideas. In many ways, he embodies the worst impulses and stereotypes of an American businessman.

Yet despite all that, Trump is striking a chord with a large segment of the voting public. His no-filtering ranting style and dealmaker pedigree speak to many people who are tired of politicians’ anodyne promises and apparent inability to take meaningful actions. His poll numbers have not been blunted even by his overtly racist remarks about Mexicans and his attacks on John McCain’s war record. Trump continues to lead the Republican field in New Hampshire, the critical first primary state.

Some of Trump’s rivals, such as Marco Rubio, have openly attacked him and called on him to bow out of the race because of his remarks. Others, like Ted Cruz, have remained cautiously silent. But trying to crowd him out or ignore him will not work. Trump has tapped into an anger that is very real, and in many cases very justified, anger with the status quo and the way politics is done.

That anger has to be addressed. It cannot be ignored. But it is also wrong to succumb to the rage. The Republican answer to Trump must be neither silence nor acceptance of the vile message he conveys. It must be reasoned addressing people’s anger and dissatisfaction with politics as it is.

In all likelihood, Trump will implode. He is too prone to running his mouth off and attacking people. Eventually, he will say something even his fans can’t forgive or excuse. But he will remain an important test case for the election: Will the candidates, of both parties, take the right path and address the anger and dissatisfaction of the American public in a way that offers genuine solutions, or will they choose one of the twin wrong paths, of demagoguery and willful ignorance?

About John Engle

John Engle is a merchant banker and author living in the Chicago area. His work has been featured by the Heartland Institute and the American Thinker. His first book, Trinity Student Pranks: A History of Mischief and Mayhem, was published in September 2013. John is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the University of Oxford. Read more from this author.