Saturday 24 September 2016

You won't see Trump trudging door to door chasing votes

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump
US presidential hopeful Donald Trump

Donald Trump wants to "Make America great again". His campaign slogan for the presidential election next year is full to the brim with the deep-seated chutzpah we have come to associate with the powerful business tycoon and reality TV star.

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It is a simple message that confidently presupposes that America was great before, and that Donald Trump is the one to restore it to greatness once again. With more than seven million followers on social media and a sack full of cash, he has dominated the media debate in America to such an extent that other candidates must be wondering if, when it comes to grabbing headlines, anyone can out-trump Trump.

Last June, just prior to announcing his candidacy, Trump released professionally prepared financial disclosure statements to the media, stating a net worth of almost $9bn (€8.2bn, or roughly in line with the entire gross domestic product of the Gambia, folks).

Trump has won the battle for attention and public profile in ways that political campaign teams can only dream of. He now has double the support of his nearest Republican rival candidate. Through non-stop media interviews and high-profile events and enormous public rallies he has drowned out his rivals.

His message is conservative to the core and the Republican voters love it.

Last night he took part in the first televised debate of the 2016 presidential race. Because he currently leads the other Republican White House hopefuls by double digits, he was awarded poll position at the centre podium in the debate. An extraordinary achievement when you consider that the man has no discernible political experience to speak of, aside from ploughing millions into supporting the Republican Party in recent years.

Last May, a well-respected American national opinion poll (GOP) said that only 11 pc of Republicans were favourably disposed towards Trump. Since then, opinions about his candidature among Republicans have totally flipped.

Perhaps because he holds such trenchant opinions and has such a clearly defined public persona, initially many commentators saw him as a joke "celebrity" candidate.

In the same opinion poll last month, the favourability figure among Republicans jumped to a massive 57pc.

That is a remarkable turnaround by any standard.

He has used his prolific platform adeptly to advocate conservative causes while at the same time throwing steely jabs at the Obama administration and, highlighting their failures at every opportunity.

Trump promotes a free market and the importance of strong family and American values. And that is where the positivity ends.

For the most part he excels at being controversial and trades on the simple notion that the more evocative his comments, the more coverage and social media interaction he will get. He is correct. Cyber sheep on social media readily oblige and, hey presto - the cacophony of outrage provides a brand new cloud of media attention for the would-be Republican candidate.

In reality, if we stand back from the hysteria, much of his verbal moralising is to be expected, given his background.

The predictability of his opinions does not lessen the frenzy surrounding his campaign. For example, his comments about illegal immigrants have understandably drawn strong responses. Essentially, he accused the Mexican government of sending across the border criminals, drug dealers and rapists. Hardly surprising that would evoke emotion. Hardly surprising that this would be his stance given his own target Republican audience. So perhaps the only extraordinary thing is that the story received such traction.

We are quite possibly in "is the Pope a Catholic?" territory when Donald Trump having a go at immigrants is a "sensational" story.

This was swiftly followed by disparaging remarks about Senator John McCain that questioned his Vietnam War service. In a country where huge swathes of voters believe that the war in Iraq was utterly futile and that Obama has been disappointing in terms of international peace and diplomacy, any debate about war is a good one for a Republican candidate to be involved in. Add into the mix a hero, decorated veteran and household name like John McCain and you have news syndicates literally stuck in the revolving doors of Trump Towers waiting to put Trump on their screens once again.

The campaign patterns and coverage battles are as relevant in Ireland as they are in the US, albeit on a much smaller scale. The prevalence of smartphones and social media means that campaigning and public relations for candidates and political parties have changed forever. While we desperately hang on to the tradition of one-to-one campaigning, our politicians struggle to straddle the social media platforms available to them.

Terrified by the unpredictability of these uncharted waters of social campaigning, there are many who will plough a well-worn course and knock on doors until their knuckles bleed.

Come election night, they will bandage their knuckles and bite their nails and wait in hope for the declaration "winner all right".

There is a fairly simple message here for all aspiring candidates who worry about how to influence the electorate before Election 2016. If you want to be a sensation, you need to be sensational. It is not a pretty prospect in terms of what lies ahead for our public representatives, nor is it a flattering reflection of our society today, but it is a sad reality of modern politics.

Irish Independent

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