A year or so ago we knew Donald Trump as the Chairman of the Trump Organisation, owner of prime real-estate all over the world, including several hundred thousand square feet of Manhattan; or as the face behind the American Apprentice – America’s version of Alan Sugar. Now however, depending on who you ask, Trump is either the presidential candidate who will make America great again, or the presidential candidate who is no more than an amusing joke which will stop being funny should he ever actually be elected. Either way, one thing is for certain: after his recent victories in American polls, now more than ever Donald Trump is the leading candidate to be the Republican Party Presidential nominee for next year’s election.
Trump has always lingered on the outskirts of the political world. The Apprentice propelled his public image – he admitted in an Interview with Larry King in 2005 that he was surprised by the impact it had – but by then he had already been a voice around politics for several decades. He endorsed Ronald Regan and Mitt Romney, and conversely questioned Barack Obama’s legitimacy by citing a supposed account of the president’s birth in Kenya. Trump even publicly flirted with the idea of running for president both as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2014.
If Trump has been tearing up US politics so far, this is the first sign that he might be putting it back together as something new.
Trumps leap from celebrity to candidacy therefore wasn’t as wild as, say Kanye West, who – remember this? – claimed that he’ll be running for the presidency himself in 2020. However, if his appearance on the scene wasn’t all that unusual, everything he has done since has been fairly unprecedented. Trump formally announced his candidacy for presidency in 2015, parading the slogan, “We are going to make our country great again”, and since then his campaign has been both divisive and entertaining. Controversy has followed him around. In fact, he has actively created it in order to fuel his campaign. Despite his enormous personal wealth, Trump has spent a meagre $2 million on his campaign (compared to Hilary Clinton’s $18.2 million) and instead depended on continuous headline making comments to guarantee he has enjoyed constant TV air time and social media buzz.
In this, and countless other ways, Trumps campaign has been unique. Riding on the current wave of discontent with mainstream politics, he has not only shaken up the system, but turned it on its head. Amongst the usual things discussed by presidential candidates – such as taxes, which Trump claims he will lower; and gun control, which he doesn’t believe needs strengthening – trump has made several unique and unprecedented statements. He believes America should employ waterboarding and other methods of strong interrogation when dealing with the Islamic State; claims he would ‘bomb the hell’ out of ISIS; and says he would built a ‘great, great wall’ between the US and Mexico to control Mexican immigration. He also claims he and Vladimir Putin would get on very well, which would enable good America-Russia relations.
Up until now many people have believed that all of these statements, made in speeches that yearn for headlines and attention, have only added to the ‘joke’; never been enough to suggest that we should actually take Trump seriously. Now, however, after the New Hampshire and Nevada results, Trump has a few wins under his belt. After dominating the entire election campaign, he now has the electoral victories to go with it. He is no longer merely causing a stir. If he has been tearing up US politics so far, this is the first sign that he might be putting it back together as something new. Trump himself even seems to be aware of this: he was unusually emotional as he thanked his deceased parents in his New Hampshire acceptance speech. There’s still an awfully long way to go, but recent results mean he now has political victories to go alongside his popularity. They may not be his last.