One question that I've been asked time and time again, is "how in the ever loving fuck did Donald J. Trump become President of the United States of America?"
The short answer is, it's complicated.
The not-as-short answer is he somehow won the nomination of the Republican Party, then somehow won the general election, with a little help from his friends.
This article will cover the first part of that statement, the Republican Party Nomination Process.
Heads up, the language may be a little harsher than normal.
First, a little background. The U.S. is essentially a two party system, the Democratic and Republican parties. The Democrats are the left wing, liberal party while the Republicans are the right wing, conservative party. One thing that this country does differently that everyone else is associating red with conservative and blue with liberal. This is flipped in Europe. So, a "blue state" is more liberal.
The Republican Party was founded in the 1850's a liberal and radical party of abolitionists. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. He was also a liberal. The parties flip sides every generation or two. The current sides were drawn in the 1960's when the Democrats signed the Civil Rights Act into law, causing the Southern (racist) part of the party to join the Republicans.
The Republicans are also called the GOP, or Grand Old Party. Kind of ironic since the Democrats were founded a solid 30 years before them.
The primary system is different from state to state, but consists of each state choosing a nominee by assigning delegates to vote at the party convention where the person is officially nominated.
Sounds simple? Well, we're Americans. We find new and interesting ways of fucking shit up.
The presidential campaign race unofficially began some time in 2012, after Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney, and news pundits had nothing else to talk about for a few years. A lot of names would be tossed around, built up, and torn down over the next couple years. People would launch focus groups and exploratory committees, create PAC's and Super PAC's, and beg for money.
Running for any office is expensive. Federal office is more expensive. The Presidency is obscenely expensive. In 2016, both Trump and HRC spent or had spent on their behalf over a billion dollars each.
Winning the election requires name recognition, being able to stand out from the crowd.
Winning an election requires a media presence. It requires knowing how to use the camera and web to your advantage.
As much as I'd love to attribute Donald Trump's GOP win to unlawful shenanigans, I can't. First, I haven't seen or heard of any evidence. Second, the rational explanation fits the facts better.
There are four major reasons how Donald Trump won the GOP Primary.
- He took advantage of the 24 hour news cycle to increase name recognition.
- He stood out in a crowded race.
- He was willing to reach depths no one else tried.
- He took advantage of a broken system.
THE 24 HOUR NEWS CYCLE
There used to be a time when a single news story in politics would last a long time, and details were fleshed out carefully by reporters who dug deep to find a story. Every night, a handful of men would read the news to an entire nation, for a half hour every night. These stoic arbiters of truth would discuss the top stories from the nation, and around the world, as the populace watched.
Then Cable News happened.
People could now get their news at anytime of the day or night, not just at dinner time. As news broke around the world, here was CNN.
A funny thing happened after CNN came about. It wasn't exactly a new thing, but if you only have to fill 30 minutes a night, it's easy to hide.
The Slow News Day.
Some days, nothing happens. There are no stories to break, no major events taking place, nobody famous dies or has a baby. No one goes to war, or gets arrested for accepting bribes.
In the era of Cronkite and Murrow, if nothing happened, they could fill the half hour with an expert interview, in-depth analysis, or an editorial speech.
CNN, on the other hand, has a big problem on a slow news day. They have to pull out all the stops for each and every minuscule issue. But if nothing happened that day, too bad.
To complicate matters, CNN originally was commercial free. At some point in the mid-80's, they figured out that they could make money from running commercials. Over time, they became dependent on the commercial revenue. They went from reporting the news to making money by reporting the news. It's a slight difference, but their unofficial business model switched to selling commercial space.
This business model became very successful. So successful, that others joined the fray. MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox News, Fox Business, Current, OAN, and many more. The playground was getting pretty crowded. All of these places, plus the internet, made things…interesting.
Two ways evolved for these places to grab viewers. Either by delivering the best, most thoughtful and researched stories, or screaming at each other and playing to the customer base. The latter seems to have won.
This created a vacuum where even the slightest transgression, like wearing a tan suit or ordering dijon mustard on a burger, could generate dozens, or even hundreds of hours of coverage.
The end effect is that by 2015, the news channels had essentially scared off most people, or solidified them to only watching the news their "side" supports, like politics was a sport. It created the false equivalency fallacy.
Enter Donald Trump.
A man without shame. Loud, brash, obnoxious, ignorant, without a filter for his mouth. A man who's very existence is an insult to politicians and public servants.
Donald Trump would take advantage of the 24 hour news cycle by being himself. Cable news wanted viewers, and Trump's fuckup-du-jour would bring eyes to the channel.
STANDING OUT IN A CROWDED RACE
The 2016 Democratic Primary election became more of a coronation than a race when Joe Biden decided not to run. HRC faced some competition from Bernie Sanders, but not enough to defeat her.
The GOP Primary, on the other hand, was a crowded cluster of 17 men and women. Okay, 16 men and 1 woman. This article lists all of the candidates that ran, tried to run, thought about running, or toyed with running at least once.
Why so many? Obama.
The United States tends to swing back and forth between the two main parties. Since Truman left office in 1953, the only time that the presidency stayed with the same party for more than two terms, and that was from Regan to Bush Sr. in 1988. The odds were in their favor. Whoever won, would be short-tracked to the White House.
Fifteen white guys, one woman in Carly Fiorina, and Bobby Jindal.
Nine governors, five senators, one CEO of a Fortune 500 company, one neurosurgeon …
And a Reality TV show host.
Here's who Trump went up against, and what they were known for.
Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana
Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP
Rick Perry, Governor of Texas
Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin
George Pataki, Governor of New York
Lindsey Graham, Senator of South Carolina
Mike Huckabee, Governor of Arkansas
Rand Paul, Senator of Kentucky
Rick Santorum, Senator of Pennsylvania
Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey
Jim Gilmore, Governor of Virginia
Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida
Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery
Marco Rubio, Senator of Florida
Ted Cruz, Senator of Texas
John Kasich, Governor of Ohio
This list is in order of how they performed, from worst to second place.
Trump stood out from this crowd not by being the best candidate, or the best person to serve as President. He stood out by being wholly and woefully unqualified, unquestionably ignorant, obtuse on policies and facts, and belligerent to his opponents.
REACHING NEW CAMPAIGN DEPTHS
Donald Trump had less money, experience, knowledge, skill, and patience than all of his opponents. What did he have that his opponents didn't?
A complete lack of shame, and no compunction about playing dirty.
Someone in Trump's camp knew that Donald would not win a traditional campaign against qualified politicians. Ever.
The only he could win was by changing the game. Fighting dirty, appealing to the undesirable elements of the party, and going to new places to wage this battle.
Name calling isn't new in an politics, but there's usually a little bit of respect between the candidates. Going back to the founding of this country when Thomas Jefferson called John Adams a hermaphrodite, they still respected each other. Donald Trump doesn't respect anyone. He either looks down on a man, or admires their strength. I said man because I honestly do not believe he is capable of viewing women as anything other than objects to control and acquire. (I'll have more on his messed up psyche later.)
Donald Trump needs positive affirmation. It's a fatal flaw in people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and this desire to be loved outweighs social norms like not attacking a candidate's spouse in a debate, or claiming that Ted Cruz's father helped kill JFK. He cares more for that little heart at the bottom of his tweet than he does about the feelings of those he attacks.
Soon, the crowds ate this shtick up. His twitter followers, human and boy alike, pounded that like button like it dispensed free meth. (Of course, the Russian Bot Army doesn't show up till late June, early July.)
Donald Trump's platform of "Make America Great Again" also reached a new low. Donald didn't just accept the fringe, he actively embraced it and courted it. He went after the conspiracy theorists, the racists, the dominionists, the autocrats, and anyone else against the "Deep State." His team went to Twitter, 4Chan, and Reddit to recruit fans to create memes to spread, and jumpstarted support throughout the country.
How did this play on the air? Pundits talked about Donald Trump's disaster-du-jour. People paying attention were completely and totally disgusted by his behavior.
People not paying attention to the news heard his name.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A BROKEN SYSTEM
Now, it's time to vote. The Primary system in the U.S. is… broken to say the least. Instead of all states voting at the same time, they're staggered over months. Each state has their own rules as to how delegates get selected for the party conventions. Some use votes open to all voters, some are open only to registered party members, some use a caucus of party officials.
Each state also has rules on how they award delegates, but for the most part, they're split with most going to the winner, then the rest awarded by district or county winners. Not only is it possible for a candidate to win all of a state's delegates without winning a majority of the votes, it's pretty common. For example, South Carolina is a winner take all primary. Trump claimed 32.5% of the vote. 67.5% of the people voted against him, but since he had the highest single tally, Donald Trump won all 50 delegates.
What was that 67.5%? 45% of that was Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio split down the middle. The rest were split evenly between John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson.
But, you might be asking "how did Donald Trump win?" Here's a thought experiment.
There are 17 candidates, each asking a pool of 100 voters to elect them.
10 of those 100 are crazy. Another 10 are completely undecided. The remaining 80 voters will choose between the best qualified candidates, and ruled out 1 candidate.
The crazy people love that 1 candidate, while the other 16 candidates are trying to split the pool of 80. The last 10 will pick randomly between the top 5.
What does this mean? The worst candidate has at least 10 votes, probably 12, 4 candidates have 7 votes, and the rest have 5 each. The Crazy Candidate wins.
That's how the race started. Within a couple races, the field narrowed to Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and Ben Carson. This was the build up to Super Tuesday.
Super Tuesday is when the most number of states, 11 in 2016, hold their primary. It will make or break a candidate. Going into Super Tuesday, Trump had a lead, but wasn't insurmountable. By the end of the day, Trump had taken a commanding lead.
Let's go back to the thought experiment. Instead of 17 candidates, the race starts with 9. What happens then?
The Crazy Candidate still has their 10 guaranteed, but so do the other 8. The undecided voters make the choice.
This phenomenon played out during Super Tuesday when multiple contests were very close. Trump won many races, but they were very close.
For the remainder of the race, Trump fought a three headed dog that refused to work together. Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich couldn't beat Trump individually. They split the responsible votes between themselves.
How could this have been prevented?
Next part of the thought experiment. Instead of 17 candidates, we're down to 5. What happens then?
The Crazy Candidate still has their guaranteed 10 votes, and 10 people will split the vote among all five candidates. However, the 4 serious candidates each take 20 votes. The Crazy Candidate ends with 12 votes while the other 4 have 22 each. The Crazy Candidate is done.
Imagine, for a moment, that the Presidential GOP race after Iowa, the very beginning of the race, if either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio dropped out of the race. Let's say Ted dropped out and pledged his delegates to Marco. And after Super Tuesday, John Kasich did the same, leaving a Rubio versus Trump race. What happens then?
Crunching numbers from this link, Marco Rubio still loses New Hampshire, but takes South Carolina. Nevada still goes to Trump. Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia now belong to Rubio. He would take a commanding lead, and wouldn't look back. He would have won every contest for the next month. By the end of March, Marco Rubio would have been so far ahead that no one could catch him. By my calculations, he would have won the nomination by April.
Why Rubio? He doesn't microwave fish in the lunchroom.
By taking advantage of a broken system, a 24 hour news cycle desperate for footage, and engaging the fringes of the party, Donald Trump was able to stand out enough from the competition to win the 2016 Republican Party Nomination for President of the United States of America.