Perhaps Donald Trump actually is the world's greatest negotiator. He boycotted Thursday's Fox News debate, and in his absence the moderators tore into Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, Trump ran a counter-rally where he had Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum — both of them nominally competitors of Trump's for the presidency — standing amidst a sea of Trump signs.
Oh, and he said this:
My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get. I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I’m going to be greedy for the United States.
This is a perfect distillation of Trump's appeal — it's how he's turned a suite of noxious qualities into a powerful presidential campaign. Trump goes to voters who think rich guys like Trump have been screwing them over all their lives and promises to use his rich guy powers to screw other people over on their behalf.
Writing in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza quoted conservative analyst Henry Olsen to make a sharp point about how Trump differs from his challengers:
"The biggest thing to understand about Trump is that he is effectively redefining the G.O.P. by asking a different question than the one the Party has been answering for fifty years," Henry Olsen told me. Since at least the Goldwater nomination of 1964, he said, every nomination battle has aimed to answer the question "To what extent should the G.O.P. be the vehicle for the conservative movement?" In addressing it, the Republican primary electorate has always sorted along a spectrum based on ideology: moderates and liberals oppose the idea; very conservative voters, the kind that Cruz is courting, champion it; and somewhat conservative ones split the difference. Trump draws from all four factions because he’s uninterested in how conservative the G.O.P. should or shouldn’t be. "He is not trying to answer this question at all," Olsen said. "Instead, he is posing a new question: to what extent should the G.O.P. be the advocates for those struggling in the modern economy?"
In the Democratic Party, this question has long been answered. Yes, Democrats should position themselves as advocates for the struggling, and the way they should do that is by showing how much more they're willing to spend on the poor.
Trump positions himself as an advocate for the struggling by showing that he's the kind of guy who knows the tricks to getting rich — and he's willing to share his secrets. In a country where people increasingly feel the economy is rigged against them, Trump isn't promising to be more compassionate or more generous; he's promising to rig the economy against someone else instead. In a world where the greedy bastards seem to keep winning, a lot of Americans are concluding they're going to need their own greedy bastard in order to stand a chance.
That's Trump's pitch. It's not that he's a nice guy who cares about you. It's that he's a nasty, greedy guy who shares your enemies.