How did candidates as terrible as, say, Romney, ever get the nomination by winning the plurality of the popular vote in the primaries, despite having no good policy substance of any kind? Simple. Elections are popularity contests. Rmoney, despite lacking patriotism, any sign of concern for the people, and his consistent record of inconsistency and love of money above the American people, was popular among many Republicans because he projected the image of a good-looking, meek, manly, solid-voiced family man of Core America, while other men had greater personal (Newt) or policy (Paul) flaws. This image, of course, was much more appealing to similar family men than to the young, the non-Core American, and the friends of intellectual consistency. Of course, to me he looked and sounded like a robot, and I deeply despised him due to his complete, total, and utter lack of any shred of principle. Indeed, I supported Obama over him, as I did not know that Obama and Kerry would ally to re-create the Islamic State. But I should have known. Fuck Obama.
Imagine, for a moment, if you were thrust into a room of sixteen other men, chosen pretty much at random. Your goal: to convince the electors (there are a few hundred of them) to appoint you Best Man in the Room by winning a plurality of their votes in a popularity contest. Neither you nor the electors know any information about your competitors before you were thrust into that room. You are allowed to express yourself in any non-violent manner. Each person gets one minute of speaking time, with a chance for anyone attacked to respond. The total allotted speaking time is five hours. What would you do?
Trump has been a showman for a long time. And as he announced his declaration of his candidacy for the Presidential nomination of the Republican party, he understood what it took to win a popularity contest in that party:
1. Back down only when it absolutely certainly benefits you. Backing down all the time makes you unpopular.
2. Be provocative. Not being provocative is a sure guarantee to let the existing favored candidate win.
3. Be anti-establishment. If you’re not part of it, figures. Besides, everyone likes to fight the establishment (except in countries with the opposition composed solely of VUSPs, like Russia)
4. Instead of having principles (which are too easy to break, anyway), have firmly stated, popular, sometimes consistent, and previously politically unmentionable policy positions. This will make most supporters of those unmentionable policy positions gravitate to you as the most authoritative man in the room.
5. Self-promote vigorously and often. Self-explanatory. If you want anyone to notice you and conclude you’re great, no one’s going to stand up for you but your own person.
6. Cripple the popularity of your most immediate competition. This draws strength away from your opponents. This can be done several ways, such as direct insults, whether true, false, or of unknown veracity, or by being so goody-two-shoes that your opponents will flock to you (Carson and Sanders did this for a while; it was not enough for them to win all that much).
7. Signal strength and credibility by casting yourself as a firm defender of your pre-planned base of support and an enemy of all the enemies of your pre-planned base of support. This will inspire your intended base and they will begin to think of you as surely a great fighter for them. When you get into an insult fight, win. And win hard. Losers aren’t winners.
8. Don’t piss off your base. Kasich and Fiorina did this in some of the debates, when they went over time.
9. Make your supporters feel good about themselves. This is an obvious incentive for your supporters to keep supporting you.
Note that a popularity contest is not a likeability contest. Ben Carson was likeable. Ben Carson didn’t even come close to winning third in any popularity contest among the Republican candidates after December. Likeability alone is a recipe for defeat.
Jeb Bush had no idea that becoming President required winning several dozen popularity contests. He didn’t think he needed to be popular. So he failed. Clinton isn’t a very popular candidate among White people. She is winning primarily with the Black vote. Sanders does none of #1, all of #2 and #3, a bit of #s 4 and 5, none of #6, some of #7, all of #8, and some of #9. Trump does all these. Clinton does all these except #s 2 and 3 (and some of 8 and 9), because she is the most favored establishment candidate since 1968.
So in conclusion, stop thinking politics have much to do with policy. Politics is not about policy. It is about popularity.