Written by John Feigelson
Donald J. Trump is a genius. He is a racist, misogynistic, discriminatory, hateful genius. He has emerged from reality television and a real estate career to become the presidential nominee for one of the U.S.’s major political parties. He has remained a popular candidate through numerous scandals that would normally end the political career of any other candidate.
Imagine if Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in 2012 had exhibited any of the scandalous behavior seen from Trump in 2015 and 2016. If Obama had been accused of sexual assault, or Romney accused of having ties to the Mafia (as Trump has been), it is hard to believe either of them would have remained viable or popular candidates. And yet, through it all, the Donald has remained a potential president of the U.S. This is not necessarily sheer luck, but because he is a genius.
Trump often purports his status as an outsider as one of his greatest strengths. In a nation where it is clear that many citizens are tired of “business as usual,” his outsider status is undeniably powerful. In a BuzzFeed article detailing one reporter’s attendance at a Trump rally in Ohio, one woman disclosed that she would vote for Bernie Sanders if Trump were not an option. In New York, Leslie Burke, a State Senate candidate, asked a number of Verizon workers on strike who they were voting for. The workers responded, “Trump.” When pressed on whom they would support if not Donald, they responded: “Bernie.”
The people’s desire for an outsider has been the base of several candidates’ appeal during this election cycle. Trump’s relentless push of his outsider status to the electorate is not simply bluster. Rather, he has recognized that there is a desire for somebody who is not from Washington, and he is capitalizing on that.
At a campaign rally at Hilton Head Island, S.C., Trump said: “I know words. I have the best words.” This declaration, more than any, perhaps, reflects his level of verbal sophistication. Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level. While this may seem alarming, seeing as Trump is an Ivy League-educated New Yorker, it may just be another sign of his genius. In 2013, a report by the Department of Education revealed that 32 million adults in the U.S. have limited literacy skills. That number is nearly a third of the country’s population, and surely some of them will be voting on Election Day. Trump’s use of basic language is not simply a lack of intelligence—it is a tool to reach those who cannot necessarily access the complex language of many politicians.
Many politicians switch their stances on important issues. Perhaps the most relevant example is that of President Obama, who announced his support for marriage equality in 2012 after having had a more conservative stance in previous years. Trump’s reversal on several issues is another example of his brilliance, in that he will say whatever it takes to appeal to his supporters.
In 1999, Trump stated his ardent support for abortion and the right to choose. More recently, he has declared that women who have abortions must be punished. In 2012, Trump voiced his support for Hillary Clinton, claiming that “…she really works hard and I think she does a good job. I like her.” Now, in the most recent debate, he called Clinton a “nasty woman,” and this epithet is just one of many insults he has hurled at her over the course of the campaign. While it is reasonable for an individual’s views to evolve and change, such drastic role reversals can be nothing more than a calculated political move to gain the support of more voters.
Imagine another hypothetical political situation: In 2012, during his reelection campaign, Barack Obama stands up in front of the press and says that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. This statement may have lost votes for Obama, yet, when Donald Trump said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, it did not seem to lose him any votes.
Trump recognizes the fervent support of his voters and runs with it. He shrugs off any and all attacks or deep probing questions because he knows the supporters that make up his base will not care what he does. His bluster is not necessarily bluster. It is a shield, one that protects him from serious political harm; a shield he carries high to fend off comments about his sexual misconduct, his racist housing policy, and lack of real political proposals.
Donald Trump is not a great man, but he is a genius. He has used his words and the political climate of this day and age to draw more supporters towards his raw message of making America great again. As reported by the New York Times, Donald John Trump has an intense and unwavering fear of losing; losing his status, his celebrity, the presidency. This fear has driven him forwards in this campaign, augmented by the genius that has given him all of the support he has accrued. Donald Trump is, again, not a great man. He is a liar, he is a sexist, he is a racist, he is a failed businessman—but underlying it all, he has shown himself, in this campaign, to be a genius.