As yet another Republican debate was winding down, the Atlantic's fantastic political reporter Molly Ball made a really smart observation on Twitter:
All the other candidates say "Americans are angry, and I understand." Trump says, "I’M angry."— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) January 15, 2016
Ball is referring to the moment in the debate when Trump, asked about South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's statement that Republicans shouldn't "follow the siren call of the angriest voices," responded that he would "gladly accept the mantle of anger." He continued:
I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our health care is a horror show. Obamacare, we're going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry. And I won't be angry when we fix it but until we fix it, I'm very, very angry…. I'm angry because our country is a mess.
This anger that Trump manages to summon (from himself) and channel (from certain groups of Americans) and direct (at certain other groups of Americans, foreign countries, existing politicians, and so on) has been a key — perhaps the key — aspect of his candidacy from the start.
Because, when you think about it, there is just so much about Trump that, on paper, should sink him in a Republican primary. Here's an incomplete list:
- His past history of liberal policy views (including support for single-payer health care)
- His incoherence on basic policy issues (for instance, his ignorance about the nuclear triad)
- His personal life (divorces, affairs, etc.)
- His … just his weirdness (for instance, his repeated jokes that he wants to date his daughter or courting Jewish voters with offensive stereotypes)
- His inability to speak the language of religion and faith (like his statement that he didn't think he'd ever asked God for forgiveness)
- His utterly childish attacks on his rivals (like his entirely gratuitous insult of Jeb Bush as a "weak person" at Thursday's debate)
- His factual inaccuracies and downright lies on a wide variety of topics (there are too many to count)
And none of it ever seems to matter. Because Trump is angry, and his anger comes across to many as authentic. He speaks to the anger that many Americans feel in a way that more polished, professional politicians — even deeply conservative, anti-establishment candidates like Ted Cruz — simply can't.
If cooler heads prevail among the GOP electorate — if, for instance, Republican voters realize that it's not Trump but Marco Rubio whom Democrats are scared to run against — Trump will go down in defeat.
But it hasn't happened yet. And the clock is ticking.