Super Tuesday victories are nice, but Trump was already a ‘winner’

March 2, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of Super Tuesday primary and caucus voting during a news conference in Palm Beach, Florida March 1, 2016.  REUTERS/Scott Audette

Donald Trump speaks about the results of Super Tuesday primary and caucus voting at a news conference in Palm Beach, Florida, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette

“We have expanded the Republican Party,” Donald Trump declared in Palm Beach, Florida, as he discussed his Super Tuesday primary wins. “We are going to be a much bigger party. … We have done something that almost nobody thought could be done. … There is nobody that’s going to beat us.”

Trump’s string of electoral victories in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries has indeed stunned political pundits. Their predictions that voters would see through Trump’s hollow bragging have fallen flat.

Trump won three of the first four states. On Super Tuesday, he won sweeping victories in the Northeast and the Deep South, taking seven of the 11 states decided. Far from precipitating his self-destruction, Trump’s boasting has helped catapult him to the top of the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates.

Supporters of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump cheers during a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Donald Trump supporters cheer during a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A major secret of the reality TV star’s political success lies in his use of language, particularly his clever exploitation of the “winning” metaphor.

It was clear as he gloried in his Nevada caucus victory: “We won with the evangelicals. We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated — I love the poorly educated.”

Everybody loves a winner, especially in the U.S.A. — where sports form an essential part of many people’s socialization and acculturation, to the point of obsession, according to some observers. The value of competition is inculcated in children from infancy and forms a basic component of the American character. Even the process of electing a president, the most exalted office in the land, is cast as a race, reflecting the ubiquitous power of the sports metaphor in framing American life.

Words matter. A metaphor induces a mindset — it evokes specific desires and elicits particular emotions. In sports, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing,” averred UCLA Bruins coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders (no relation to Bernie!).

For Trump, the worst thing to be is a loser — that is his ultimate putdown, his ultimate insult. Above all else, he must be a winner, or posture as one. In Trump’s playbook, this means to appear rich, successful and sexually appealing, with a glamorous woman on one’s arm.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns to his wife Melania as he speaks to supporters at the Verizon Wireless Arena during a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Donald Trump turns to his wife Melania as he speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Trump keeps insisting he is a winner, and so are those who support him, whom he “loves.” It’s others who are the losers. Trump’s words arouse people’s unconscious processes that bypass their critical faculties and circumvent their rationality. How the race is won becomes less important: It is only the outcome that counts. Facts are falsified, stories are made up, truths are twisted — all for the appearance of winning.

The winner-loser schema that Trump incessantly invokes primes a seductive desire for victory among his supporters. It begets such strong identification with the “winner,” that it can suppress all reasonable objections to his message. It empowers the rationalization of outrageous excesses and preposterous proclamations.

How else to explain the fact that Latinos, whom Trump branded as rapists and drug dealers, extended him substantial support in Nevada, for example. He did better with Latino voters there than Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee.

This also helps explain why Trump is leading among Republican women, though he has offended, sexualized and stereotyped so many women.

Some Trump supporters rationalize his extremist statements by claiming that he does not quite mean what he says. If elected president, they say, Trump would heed the counsel of the Republican establishment. “If Trump were to get the nomination,” argued a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s inner circle, he would “be looking to answer the question: ‘Where’s the beef?’ And we will have that for him.”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts on stage during his victory speech as his wife Melania looks on at his 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary night rally in Manchester, New Hampshire February 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

Donald Trump reacts during his victory speech, as his wife Melania looks on at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The implication was that Trump’s actual political agenda is skin deep — and he would need to take policy advice from those who know better.

Curiously, Trump seems to concur: “When I’m president,” he said at a rally in Pella, Iowa, “I’m a different person. I can do anything. I can be the most politically correct person you have ever seen.” And his news conference on Tuesday night was remarkably mannerly.

Yet, Trump misses nary an opportunity to showcase his winner essence. In a capitalist society, this means material wealth — which Trump never tires of mentioning. “I am rich, I am really rich” he says over and over again. When he announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on June 16, Trump uttered the words “rich,” “money” and “net worth” 30 times in 45 minutes. He said his net worth is $8,737,540,000, which, according to some estimates, is grossly exaggerated.

He also constantly reminds voters that he is married to a gorgeous former model. By his standards, this is a hallmark of a true winner.

Nor is the winner-loser distinction unique to Trump’s campaign role. His reality-TV persona thrived on that dichotomy. Trump relished his power on The Apprentice as a Godlike arbiter of people’s fates. He had the ability to elate contestants with the gift of winning or devastate them with the verdict of losing. Trump’s hit TV program, viewed over the years by millions of voters, amplifies and adds authority to his winner-loser language in politics.

Trump’s harping on the winner theme has elicited pointed ridicule from media and pundits, which have turned him into a butt of jokes. Yet, there is considerable rhyme and reason to his apparent obsessiveness. His strategic bragging is nothing if not highly effective.

Those who dream of derailing him had better understand it — else the ultimate joke be on them.

8 comments

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Somebody should tally up how many of these ridiculous anti-Trump “analysis” hit pieces have been published since he started winning the polls. All of them are drearily the same, blathering on about how he is lying and exaggerating and how he’s not really all that successful and how he can’t do anything he says he’ll do and how the voters are complete fools. And then they should compare the massive tally to how many articles were/are published which confront the real reason behind his power and appeal: as the cure for the complete and hopeless failure of Barrack Obama, who has managed to even beat George the Idiot as the worst president of the modern era. If Obama were even a mediocre president, a middling success, Trump would have almost no traction, little sway, and little appeal. I bet the tally of anti-Trump delusionally hit pieces vs. honest pieces about Obama laying the foundation for Trump would be about 10,000 to 1 by the time Trump takes his oath.

Posted by DonnyMcKellar | Report as abusive

How is the media helping Trump? With articles like this where they equate american voter with the gop primary voter. Also, the author seems blind to the fact that the hispanic voters he won formed 7% of the republican party voters, so winning 45% or even 80% does not mean much and certainly does not translate into a 45% vote by the US hispanic population for trump. Then we wonder why most people just ignore science and pseudo scientists.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

This is insightful. I think you are on the right track. In the past I have found myself believing claims of expertise. With your fresh insight, can you suggest a way to counter Trump’s braggadocio? Just contradicting his assertions is not easy to do. How can one say he is not rich and successful when he arrives in a shiny commercial jet painted with his name in huge letters, and flanked by attractive women?

Trump certainly acts like a dictator. Have there been other candidates (in any country) who came to office in a similar way?

Posted by Ralphooo | Report as abusive

Republicans (and Democrats too) only care about getting re-elected, they don’t CARE about who the people vote for! They dont’ want Trump because he is not sold to big business.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

It’s easy to win when the 60 to 70% who are against you are spread between several other candidates I don’t think the GOP voters are actually voting for Cruz or Rubio, etc. I think they are voting against Trump and don’t know who to rally around. The emphasis, in Trump’s case, should not be on the number of states won but on the percentage of the vote, especially the percentage of the not-Trump vote. He doesn’t seem like such a winner then.

Posted by sdevitt | Report as abusive

“How the race is won becomes less important: It is only the outcome that counts. Facts are falsified, stories are made up, truths are twisted — all for the appearance of winning.”
Indeed, that is not exclusive to Trump, that is American ideology. And one of the most successful practitioners now is Hillary R. Clinton, just watch her latest tricks in Iowa and Nevada, leaving aside her long record.

Posted by Quebrantahuesos | Report as abusive

“We now have a front runner in the GOP who thinks Judges sign ‘bills.’ Donald Trump wants to be President of the United States, but would not pass an 8th grade Civics Exam.”

-George Will, conservative columnist March 1, 2016.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

An exclusive club awaits. As one of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, you’ll pull down a nice salary of almost $170,000 a year, plus a sweet package of benefits—special tax deductions, housing and travel allowances, cheap healthcare, a great pension, even free parking and free mail. Not to mention the greatest fringe benefit of all: a great deal of power to shape the world you live in by party privilege of corrupt Political establishments. Super delegates, a corrupt political class of politicians. Both parties are guilty. Go Trump, go Bernie no one is squeaky clean, but those holding you back is what’s gone wrong in America. The ordinary people know the establishment parties choices have no clothes!

Posted by americangrizzly | Report as abusive