Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Donald Trump: heel or face?

The latest polls from CNN, NBC, and FoxNews show Trump garnering 27%, 25% and 24% of the vote among registered Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters, registered Republican primary voters, and likely Republican voters, respectively. For the sake of absolute clarity, here are these three polls:
CNN: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/19/rel11b.-.republicans.pdf 
NBC: http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/poll-trump-hits-highest-mark-yet-carson-close-behind-n447291 
FoxNews: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/interactive/2015/10/13/fox-news-poll-carson-giving-trump-run-for-his-money/
The CNN poll has a sample size of 465, the NBC one is 400, and the FoxNews one is 402. All three polls were conducted via telephone interviews. To someone unfamiliar with the statistical side of things, the numbers probably seem small—drawing conclusions about a population of 319 million from 400 interviews—but they are, in fact. sufficient.

General Elections polls, pitting Trump against Clinton, Sanders, or Biden, show Trump consistently losing, but also consistently drawing 40% or more of the vote. Past polls—now probably unnecessary—that looked at Trump as an independent showed him getting 20% or more of the vote (and this was back when his general poll numbers were smaller than they are now).

The upshot of all this is that Trump seems to be a legitimate contender for the nomination, if not the actual Presidency, contra the opinions many offered about his chances when he first entered the race. And I include myself in that group. After all, just a month ago, I said the following:
That said, I also think Trump is wrong (though I admit that I do not know that he is). It's not a zero-sum game because the actual pie is not defined (meaning that the American electorate changes in scope and size from election to election). And--more importantly--I don't think everyone in the group Trump is catering to is as stupid as Trump thinks. People are going to start wising up, are going to start realizing that they are getting played.
Since then, Trump's support has not wavered and in fact has ticked upwards, even after the debates which many believed would cause Trump to fall flat on his face.

So I'm left with a little egg on my own face and with the task of understanding why Trump is getting the support he is getting.

First, I should note that Trump and Carson seem to be working with the same general crowd, despite the very different natures of these two candidates. So, if Carson were to drop out of the race tomorrow, I think most of his support would move into the Trump column, putting Trump clearly in the driver's seat. I say this based on the General Election poll numbers and the Trump-as-independent poll numbers. It's the only way I see to explain them.

And frankly, that just makes things worse, the task of understanding the "why" behind this support. Certainly, a good portion of it must be based on both Trump's and Carson's "outsider" statuses. Neither is a professional politician, neither has a political resume of any sort, and both revel in these facts. But I don't think that's sufficient to explain everything. After all, Fiorina is the same sort of outsider. And Rubio has always enjoyed plenty of support from the tea party crowd.

So what's the answer?

Consider this: Trump is and always has been a shameless self-promoter. He'll say and do almost anything for face time in front of the camera. Remember, Trump is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. In 2007 at Wrestlemania 23, Trump and Vince McMahon made a bet on a match, wherein the winner would get to shave the other's hair off. Trump won and shaved McMahon bald, then proceded to get slammed to the mat by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. In 2009, Trump "bought" Monday Night Raw, only to have McMahon buy it back shortly thereafter and "fire" Trump.

And WWE fans ate all of this up. It was fun stuff and Trump was more than willing to play the role of babyface-turned-heel, to be the villain, reviled and hated by all (in wrestling parlance, "babyface" or just "face refers to the good guy while "heel" refers to the bad guy). Really, this was the basis for his reality show, The Apprentice, as well. Regardless of what the contestants did or didn't do, how much they were liked or disliked, the chief villain was Trump.

People love to hate Trump. Nowhere was this more apparent than at this past weekend's Golovkin-Lemieux title fight at Madison Square Garden. The jumbotron showed various celebrities in attendance—as it always does at big pay-per-view events—and most received at least a little applause when they were on screen. Not so for Trump; he was roundly booed. One would think that at this kind of event, he'd have some support in the audience. If he did, they were certainly quiet.

Or maybe it's something else. Maybe it's that Trump's biggest fans, his actual supporters, still love to hate him. After all, if one goes with the now-accepted mainstream media narrative, that Trump is drawing support from the ignorant and the stupid, one would expect to find a fair number of both among boxing and wrestling fans (for the record, I'm a fan of both), right? But the WWE universe hates Trump, by and large. Well, to be more precise, they hate his persona. But they love the storylines involving this persona. A subtle thing, no doubt, but equally true of WWE Chairman (no longer owner, as WWE is publicly traded) Vince McMahon. Fans love the product, what he has created, and that product includes "McMahon the heel." So, fans hate Vince McMahon, though they understand what the real McMahon has created and love him for it (i.e., wrestling fans aren't all as stupid as many people think they are).

So, is this possible, that Trump supporters are willing to "hate on him"—or at least not support him—in public because they are dealing with two different Trumps: the public persona and the Presidential Candidate? It actually explains a lot of things, in my opinion.

But it leave a couple of questions unanswered: is there an actual difference between the two and if there is, how can we tell which Trump we are dealing with in a given moment?

I'm guessing that a good chunk of Trump's supporters see a face persona under the more commonly seen heel persona of the Donald. And that's probably a good way to differentiate the two: The Donald (heel) versus Donald Trump (face). But I have to admit, I'm still seeing only the heel.

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