Strategic Analyst Claims Trump’s Popularity is Founded on His Authenticity

In The Crisis of the Well-Crafted Candidate, George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, “a geopolitical intelligence firm that provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world,” argues that we have entered the day of the “seemingly exotic challengers” and delegitimized mainstream parties. To make his argument, he cites the examples of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, as opposed to Hillary Clinton and the marginalized mainstream Republican candidates.

First of all, there is a problem when a bevy of extremists are advertised as “mainstream” – and this is a charge we have long leveled at the mainstream media, by failing to call out extremism when they see it have allowed it to become, instead, commonplace. In truth, the same forces that created these other candidates created Trump, and there is really very little difference between them in their stances and policy positions (as near as we can figure out their vaguely-worded policy positions, at any rate).

There are all sorts of problems here, but Friedman seems to have strayed into deep water indeed when he cites “authenticity” as a reason for Trump’s continued success:

As Trump’s popularity shows, in the Republican Party, the draw of ideology has weakened, as has the attraction of particular policies. What there is a desire for is a person who is prepared to say what he thinks, without apology and without concern for the consequences. In other words, the Republicans are looking for authenticity.

The draw of ideology has weakened? In what sense, and where is the evidence for such a claim? Ideology is, for the Republicans, as it has always been, front and center. Ideology at the expense of facts. And ideology that has gone to great lengths to delegitimize all other alternatives.

Friedman also ignores the many Trump detractors who say there is nothing authentic about Trump at all, and many of these are conservatives, who sincerely believe Trump is a Democratic plant. In fact, Trump has held positions that are antithetical to those he claims to hold today:

He loved Hillary Clinton; now he thinks she’s the worst. He was very much in favor of abortion rights before he opposed them. And he might be running as a Republican today, but he was once a registered Democrat who called for legalizing drugs, a massive one-time 14.25 percent tax on the wealthy and staying out of wars that didn’t present a “direct threat” to the U.S. In many ways, he’s been to the left of Clinton and even Bernie Sanders on some issues.

It can reasonably be argued that Trump tailored his positions precisely to make himself popular.

Bill Clinton comes up as an example of what the American people no longer want: the “triangulated candidate,” which Friedman explains is someone who will “select positions that would maximize his popularity and support.” That’s funny, in March Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post that, Bill Clinton is incredibly popular. How much will that help Hillary’s 2016 campaign? Why did Cillizza write that? Because,

A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed that 56 percent of people have a positive view of the former president while just 26 percent hold a negative one. That makes him more popular than George W. Bush (35/39) and President Obama (44/43). It also makes him more popular than his wife; 44 percent of Americans have a positive view of Hillary Clinton while 36 percent have a negative one.

But Americans don’t want that anymore, says Friedman.

And Trump? You think it’s an accident that he abandoned all his previous positions in order to adopt his anti-Obamacare, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and Evangelical beliefs by accident? In other words, Trump’s narrative is authentic only in that it is something that authentically comes out of a bovine backside.

Having said Trump is authentic, however, he points to Sanders and his unapologetic socialism. With the premise that “having a candidate who is authentic, who is not running in order to win but who wants to win because of who he is and what he wants, is powerfully seductive,” Friedman then compares Trump to Sanders, something anathema to those who feel the Bern:

Trump and Sanders share something important. Neither is prepared to compromise who he is for the office he is running for. When Bill Clinton ran into political trouble, he spoke unapologetically about triangulating his position. What that means, stripped of its jargon, is that he would select positions that would maximize his popularity and support. To put it bluntly, there was nothing he believed in as much as his own political success. You cannot imagine Trump or Sanders triangulating their positions.

According to Friedman, “Trump’s success is not rooted in saying things that others secretly agree with. It is rooted in very clearly not caring whether anyone agrees with him or not,” but I think this is to ignore the evidence. I would argue that Trump cares very greatly whether others agree with him. You can see it daily in his Twitter feed, an endless brag that this or that person or organization agrees with him.

It is entirely mistaken to say, as Friedman does here, that,

Trump was expected to collapse in the polls for saying this and other things. He did not. It was not because the public agreed with what he said. It was that the public longed for someone who was authentic.

Trump hasn’t collapsed precisely because of the things he has said. He has tapped into the deep, fearful and angry angst of conservative voters, pointing his finger at Muslims and Mexicans and Syrian refugees and blacks and women and the disabled and journalists. Everyone is out to get America, and more critically from Trump’s perspective, they’re all out to get him.

Trump is the victim. The messiah willing to be a martyr for America. Someone came to power in 1933 preaching the same message, and it wasn’t Franklin D. Roosevelt, but a mustachioed fellow across the Atlantic in war-torn Germany.

Friedman wants us to believe that,

There are cycles in politics, and we have reached the end of the cycle in which creating artificial personas will work for candidates. The enthusiasm for Trump is not because of what he believes, but simply because he is prepared to show himself.

Yet Trump is, arguably, an entirely artificial persona. Authenticity isn’t what draws worshipers to Trump’s feet. It is a shared fear and anger. Trump has tapped into the same springs that fed the Tea Party, and his demagoguery disguises what is, at its heart, a sham, a man for whom America becoming “great” again matters far less than Trump being a winner. Trump’s campaign is a cult of personality, and there is nothing new at all in that.