6 months ago, I was worried that the 2016 presidential election was shaping up to be one of the most boring in modern history. The conventional wisdom at the time was that Hillary and Jeb would go against each other in the 2016 Battle of Bores with Billions. Now, with Donald Trump polling in the high 30's with only three month until Iow and New Hampshire, that prediction was, thankfully, far off base.
Trump's success has come to the surprise of most of the US political establishment, media, and punditry. Nobody took his campaign seriously during the few weeks before the first Republican debate, and following the debate, most pundits thought he was finished. Of course, now we know that the exact opposite was true (and that most of the political punditry is worthless).
The same pundits that got everything wrong so far have taken to writing hundreds of complicated articles dissecting the Trump phenomenon, and predicting when or if it would end. But as I see it, the reason for his success is actually quite simple: Donald Trump understands, perhaps better than anyone, that political language no longer has any meaning. American political discourse has been rendered meaningless by decades of Orwellian tactics by the right wing political and media machine. The media, which is supposed to be the caretaker of objectivity in national political discussions, has for decades been complicit in the conservative takeover of the US political economy and therefore has little to no legitimacy in the eyes of the American public, which has been economically crippled and politically marginalized by neoliberalism. The media can yell and scream all day long about the vile, racist, and borderline-fascist comments made by Trump and his supporters, but it will have little to no impact. To steal a line from"Who's Line", 21st century American politics is a place where "everything is made up, and the facts don't matter."
Trump understands that the political process has no integrity or legitimacy, so he treats it with all the respect it deserves-- which is to say, none. Unlike the more serious establishment GOP contenders, Trump doesnt bother to act as if any part of the process is worthy of anything in and of itself. He sees it as purely a means to an end, and doesn't care how he gets there. And he probably knows that the reliably short-term memories of the American electorate will allow him to soften and regulate his tone during the general election, and res-cast himself as a practical businessman who just want to "Make American Great Again!!!" Watch for his tone to drastically soften once he has sewn up the primary.
I suspect Trump also knows that policy proposals, especially during hotly contested primaries, are a joke. That's why his plan to cut taxes by $10 trillion, regulate health insurance at the federal level, and deport all illegal immigrants are so absurd. Since these proposals are meaningless anyway, why not go full-on right wing to suck in as much of the base as possible? So far, this has worked better than any political analyst could have imagined. This also happens to be a perfect strategy for wooing in a Republican base that has been conditioned to angrily reject nuance and analytic thought.
It is also hard to overestimate how much Trump's ascendancy scares the shit out of the Republican establishment. Trump has swiftly hijacked a political and media machine that many in the GOP establishment have spent their entire lives crafting. From the Powell memo to Citizens United, the GOP has built a system of electoral repression and unbridled corporate financing that they thought would cement their political power for a generation. Then along comes Donald Trump, a billionaire with no political experience, who simply manhandles their entire operation and forces it to his own personal advantage. He easily dispensed the 'inevitable' $125 million Jeb Bush campaign with a few zippy deliveries of the novel "low-energy" line. All the right-wing SuperPACs, attack ads, pundits, analysts, and even Fox News, were no match for Trump's "high energy", wealth, and force of personality. Trump has brow-beaten them all into submission and now has a clear path to the nomination.
Keep in mind, Trump is really not a right wing conservative at heart. He is more likely an Eisenhower Republican, who believes that government has some sort of proactive role in the economy, to do great, 100% yuge things, Big League. And in all honesty, Trump is a good representative for the United States at the moment- White, slightly overweight, aging, loud, rich, and rabidly unapologetic.
That's why nothing Trump says, controversial or mundane, matters at this point. He's little more than a political opportunist who saw a right-wing base that was ripe for the picking. He took one look at the field of so called "inevitable" Republican candidates, and thought out loud "Hey, I can do better than these bozos!"-- and so far, he has.