A lot of political science is forensic. We try to explain the past rather than correctly predict the future. A lot of people assumed George H. W. Bush would be re-elected in 1992 because of Desert Storm. A lot of people thought Al Gore was going to win in 2000 because of anti-GOP blowback from the impeachment process. A lot of people thought Hillary Clinton would be the nominee in 2008 because it was her turn. So really we can only look back and explain what happened.
Donald Trump is a very unusual candidate. I didn't think he was serious about running last year. Billionaires tend not to run for president, because that would be like a millionaire applying to work at WalMart. The annual salary of the President is less than .05% of any billionaire's net worth. And every presidential election this century, the wealthier of the two establishment party candidates always came in second. Presidential candidates typically have prior experience serving in elected office and/or in the military. Trump has spent his entire life in the private sector.
So let's dissect why he has done so well so far.
1, Name recognition This is the easiest explanation right here. When people ask me why Trump is polling well, I quiz them on the other candidates. And Trump is the only candidate who they can name what he does for a living. When I was in elementary school during the 80's, I knew who Trump was. I didn't know who Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or even Hillary Clinton were back then. Trump has been a household name for decades.
2. Perceived competence "You know he's good with money," a Trump fan told me last year. Trump got rich in the first place because he was born into a wealthy family. He became wealthier through a combination of both prudent and shady investments. This describes a lot of politicians in fact, and not even most of them are worthy of holding elected office. Just because some trust fund kid survives into old age doesn't mean we should hand him the nuclear football if he asks for it.
3. Perceived honesty "He tells it like it is!" a lot of his fans will say. Let's not mistake political incorrectness for honesty, though. Trump makes promises that educated adults should know he can't keep. Check out all the statements that he makes that get rated "Pants on Fire" by PolitiFact.
4. Media coverage It's all about ratings and pageviews. The media likes to talk about the zaniest guy on the stage. Television is a poor medium for learning about politics. A candidate can soberly state his informed position on a current issue, but the audience will forget what he said and remember anything funny or outrageous the next morning. Trump says things that are geared more towards upsetting people than solving problems, and the media rewards him with extra airtime and column inches that he doesn't have to pay for. And I'll admit that I'm part of the problem with this very blog post. You need to admit that you are part of the problem if you know more about the Donald's personal life and how many times he has been married than you know about what the other candidates had to say about healthcare, foreign policy, and taxes.
5. The GOP establishment and liberals hate Trump By going after Trump, Democrats are luring GOP primary voters into supporting a candidate that Clinton would very much like to run against. I actually know a Bernie Sanders supporter who says that if Bernie drops out before he gets a chance to vote, he plans to vote for Trump in the primary and Hillary in the general election.Trump is a strawman capitalist made into flesh. He is like a businessman movie villain supplied by Central Casting. Progressives love to hate Trump, and it's like they are using reverse psychology to get Republicans to nominate the weakest possible candidate.