A crowd gathers, growing more rabid by the second. They have come to hear the man whom they consider to be their next president speak.
Clad in an expensive suit and sporting what looks like a wispy toupee, he walks to the podium. He makes a speech, using fiery language and condemning both the opposing party and his own.
The man is Donald Trump, and his mission to “Make America Great Again!” has resounded with a large group within the Republican Party.
Although he came in second to Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucus, he has since won in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Vermont, and Massachusetts. To some, he is the hero America needs who “says it like it is.” To others he is a by-product of a broken political system.
“In general, I think he’s articulating what a lot of people have been thinking for many years,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, professor and chair of the political science department at UNT. “He’s kind of articulating those things that people think and can’t say or feel like they can’t say.”
In addition to appealing to people’s prejudices and emotions, Eshbaugh-Soha said that Trump has been capitalizing on the anti-establishment sentiment a lot of people within the Republican Party have been feeling, and it has worked to his advantage.
“Donald Trump is a demagogue. A demagogue is someone who appeals to people’s prejudices to get elected, and the framers of the Constitution structured the selection of the president in a way that would minimize the chances that a demagogue would become president,” Eshbaugh-Soha said. “I think there’s a potential danger here in Donald Trump if he were to become president, but typically we don’t see candidates who are able to win based on appeal primarily to fear.”
Trump has made controversial statements on immigration, gender, race, religion, and so much more. However, as his words have grown increasingly controversial, his numbers have not dropped.
Political science junior Lucero Cantu said the reason was because Trump has been good at marketing his message in a way that makes him seem like someone who is genuine and says whatever is on his mind.
“People nowadays are so disillusioned by our political system that they will just overlook all his scandals,” Cantu said. “It’s something people can really buy into.”
So, what is it about this quizzically coiffed tour-de-force that has appealed to such a large group of voters? How is it that a man whose past is riddled with scandals and who seemingly has flip-flopped on a variety of issues risen to the top of a major political party?
“Everything he says is for the purpose of stirring up people and getting them riled up and angry,” biology senior Karly Flemmons said. “I think he throws stuff out that’s not incredibly overt, but just enough [to make] people think, ‘oh, he thinks the same way I do!’ when in actuality, maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, maybe he was just saying stuff.”
Public relations professor Gwen Nisbett said that the secret to Trump’s success lies in what is known as expectancy violation theory. She explained that this theory says that when someone, like a politician, behaves in a way that is different from what is expected, it can have a negative or positive effect on the way people perceive them.
“On a psychological level an explanation for why he can get away with what he can get away with is that we sort of expect a certain thing, and if he’s slightly nicer, or slightly more interested in me, then suddenly it’s like the cool kid is interested in me,” Nisbett said.
She said that because Donald Trump has contributed so much to his own campaign, he doesn’t need to rely on donors as much as his opponents, allowing him a greater degree of freedom in what he can say.
“It’s like he’s doing his own almost third party show, and he’s not really getting along with the Republican Party,” Nisbett said. “I don’t think they really like him when it comes down to the nominating convention.”
However, once the primaries are done, Nisbett said that Trump would then have to deal with the internal structure of the Republican Party, and finding the funding to continue as he has been would prove to be more difficult.
After his victory in several states on Super Tuesday, it seems that this is a challenge Trump may soon have to face. Whether or not his promises and unorthodox campaigning methods will carry him all the way to the White House, only time will tell.