Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2016. This is hardly the first time he’s stated his interest in holding that position and even stated he was running, but his official, public announcement on Tuesday earlier this week goes beyond prior runs. More than new for Trump, as Rachel Maddow pointed out for instance, this is something of a reflection of the brave new world of the Republican Party. In a not entirely positive way, Trump is groundbreaking for his use of paid actors to pack his announcement site. Maddow herself hints at the open question of what this means even as she traces Trump’s rising visibility within Republican circles and the growing encouragement of that by those circles.
At the announcement, from here.
That history is actually much longer and detailed that Maddow can (or probably wants to) delve into. There’s echoes in Trump’s crowd-for-hire of Mitt Romney’s personally circulated, photoshopped image of supporting crowds in Nevada. Trump himself stands as a figure that perfectly exemplifies the glossy, image-conscious branding with minimal basis in reality that is increasingly powerful within the Republican Party. That said, he’s only a symbol for the underlying trend – that has played out in increasingly narrower demographic appeals and more extensive grandstanding for decades now.
At first glance, that broader trend is somewhat baffling. How does overstating popular support create popular support to win elections? But that assumes that winning elections is even the goal. It’s become almost a perennial punchline in Republican jokes to note that they don’t seem interested in governing. Perhaps they actually aren’t. That’s possibly the outcome of the anti-government ethos that has become at least rhetorically dominant in the party in the past decades. In the name of that, Republican government official have held up non-governmental work as superior and pushed policy designed to encourage the development of an ultra-rich socio-economic class freed of social expectations. Those are the true beneficiaries of Republican political rule – not, at least to the same degree, the (typically similarly wealthy) members of the same class who decided to run for office and (apparently regrettably) won.
The false image of significant popular support is a salve for both candidates and their potentially quite vanishingly rare supporters. That only makes the loss all the more bittersweet and their subsequent appearances as commentators in partisan-affiliated media all the more filtered through supposedly righteous indignation. In short, this is an emotional production. It’s about maintaining face among candidates by carving out a paradoxically commoner politician, at once a voice of the people and silenced loner. That candidate attracted so much attention and yet couldn’t quite assail against something unassailable, maybe the liberal media? For Republican voters, it’s a similar deal. This crafts a figure they can declare it only “common sense” to support and yet have him be also simultaneously overwhelmingly unsupported. It’s security and thrill, normalcy and specialness. Having your cake and eating it too.
The only problem is, maintaining all those confusing contradictions means giving up some other uses of the democratic process, most notably electability, governance, and responsibility.