On Tuesday, it will be six weeks since Donald Trump announced what the Des Moines Register editorialized as a "bloviating side show," his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Being in a state of perpetual controversy, Trump has managed to offend both political opponents and his ostensible compatriots in the Republican Party in a multitude of ways. Specifically, Trump has caught flak for his hateful rhetoric on illegal immigration and undocumented migrants, among other issues.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us," Trump said in his campaign announcement speech. "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
Trump’s hateful positions reflect a broader problem among many in the right-wing, including those serving as representatives in Texas. This was put in full display this past state legislative session, when Tea Party members nearly pushed through a bill to repeal Texas’ Dream Act. But hateful immigration rhetoric is just the tip of the iceberg for Trump. Most politicians, when confronted with the huge blowback from the American people, would have sought to alleviate the offensiveness of the comments, and attempted to express the hateful rhetoric with politically correct code words. (Lots of other Republican presidential candidates do this splendidly.) Not Trump.
Not only did Trump double down on his ugliness, he said more. Last week, Trump denigrated the military service of John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona and the party's presidential nominee in 2008, as well as a universally-celebrated veteran who endured years of torture as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. "I like people who weren't captured," Trump — who received four deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War — said. Regardless of one’s opinion on a specific war, Trump’s attacks are unacceptable. They should offend every American.
These aforementioned incidents would have caused the instant death of a Republican primary campaign four years ago have now catapulted Trump to instant-frontrunner status. Moreover, as time goes on and Trump ups the ante of his offensiveness, his lead has only grown. A national poll on Sunday from The Economist and YouGov show Trump with a fourteen point lead over his nearest competitor. (Recent state polls also have him in the lead.)
Moreover, Trump does not only talk his mean-spirited talk, he walks an offensive walk as well. Last Thursday, Trump visited Laredo, where he bragged of the “great danger” he faced being there and continued railing against immigrants. (For what it’s worth, Laredo was listed in 2013 as the 19th safest city in the country, ahead of Austin, Dallas and Houston, among others.)
It is easy to laugh this all off and pretend that Trump is not a serious force to be reckoned with in Republican politics; but the reality could not be farther from the truth. Between his sterling name identification, large fortune and ability to speak almost exclusively in sound bites, Trump could easily win the nomination if he doesn't voluntarily drop out of the race or purposefully self-sabotage — both of which are completely within the realm of possibility.
"Nobody leaves a race because they get tired, or because they think they don't have the votes. They leave the race because they run out of money," Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant, told the Associated Press. "Donald Trump will never run out of money, and that makes him incredibly powerful."
Indeed, what really makes Trump powerful — even scary — is his almost prophetic popularity among the Tea Party and other grassroots Republicans. Trump is espousing every bit of the hateful, racist rhetoric the zealots have tried to hijack their party into supporting. The zealots just have a rich champion for them now.