The Donald has many interesting traits, from his hair to his shoes, but his strong showing in the GOP presidential field really reflects his outsider-ness. Many Americans can relate.
(Credit: ZUMA Press/Newscom)
The guessing games about all the reasons for Donald Trump's political popularity have only begun.
Is it the hair? His stance on the birther issue? His reality-TV show as a tough boss and straight shooter? His financial success? Do any or all of these really account for his high ranking in the GOP presidential field?
Here's my guess: A big chunk of Americans don't feel part of national politics and thus gravitate toward someone outside the traditional parties, even if he's not a regular guy. Mr. Trump is clearly an outlier, at least in style, with the staid GOP. And he's never held elective office, a real bonus to many who prefer the untainted.
The rapid rise in the number of independent voters as well as the growth of the tea party movement reflect a growing disenchantment with the current party structures. Politics is seen as too just too inaccessible for common folk.
The Internet's ease of access – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – helps counter this trend by allowing the Democratic and Republican parties to reach people more directly. Barack Obama certainly knew that in 2008. But the Internet also allows informal groups, like MoveOn.Org or the tea party, to easily rally people behind a cause or a new upstart candidate.
Distrust of establishment politicians is an old problem in America's democracy. Trump has tapped into it, like many before him. But even he might admit that voting a shin-kicker like himself into office won't solve the problem of voters feeling estranged from their government.