Missing the Point – Why is Donald Trump leading in the polls?

I confess.  This time the problem may be me.  I’m beginning to think that I’m the one missing the point – and I’m not entirely sure what the point is.

Donald Trump is not only well ahead of his Republican primary opponents, he’s also leading Joe Biden in the general election polls.  The problem isn’t Joe.  Yes, Joe Biden is too old to be President.  It’s not just his numerical age, which is now 81.  The problem is that he presents old.  The generally soft tone of his voice sounds weak.  He walks slowly with an irregular cadence that defines “doddering.”  And then there is the problem of incumbency.  When things are going well, the President takes credit for it.  Likewise, when times are troubled, he or she (someday soon?) gets blamed for it.

Technically, things aren’t all that bad for most Americans.  There’s no worldwide economic depression that’s prying open the door for a world war.  The American economy is doing surprisingly well despite the onslaught of absurd increases in interest rates by the Federal Reserve which may have calmed down inflation, but at what cost?  To how many?

But then there are anxiety-causing problems coming at us from all directions, everywhere we look via media that there’s no escaping.  Yes, there are substantial numbers of us who get their news from TikTok and other social media – which is troublesome given the superficiality, almost subliminal nature of that information.  And let’s not forget cable news, legitimate and otherwise.  Bad news aplenty with scrollers poking at you, slapping you in the face with references to yet another current or potential crisis.

The problem for Joe and for America is that there is too much out there, so many things to worry about.  From rush hour traffic to local news about crime, climate crisis weather, dysfunctional government, a never-ending election cycle – to checking your email and texts while you’re waiting in line for a self-checkout station at the grocery store.  It’s just one relentless thing after another.  We all, even Joe’s most fervent supporters, just want it to stop.  Unfortunately, the simple-minded solution to nationwide anxiety is change in the form of new leadership – a Donald Trump Part 2, for example – with reckless disregard for how new leadership may threaten the foundations of our government and society in general.

The question is not why Joe is behind in the polls.  It’s why Donald Trump is in the polls at all.  He’s running because he’s nuts.  He thrives, maybe even survives on the “Trumped up” adulation of his followers.  Some are a lost cause of steadfastly devoted groupies.  But what about the millions of others the polls are picking up, millions of voters who seem to believe that Donald Trump is a viable alternative to Biden and that he (Trump) deserves re-election?

For the moment, let’s put aside the many and varied differences among us that fall under the general umbrella of “diversity.”  We look different.  We have different tastes in food, cars, furniture, you name it.  We differ by virtue of our cultural history, religions, and so on.  The point is that, remarkably, despite these enumerable differences, we share certain common beliefs.  Or at least I want to believe we do.

As a rule, for example, we are polite and kind to each other, person to person, holding doors open for the older among us, helping someone short get a box of cereal down from one of the upper shelves at the supermarket.  We all understand how capitalism works.  We want something, we pay for it, and the seller gives it to us.  We are motivated to work for a living.  There are exceptions of course, but for the most part, we think that hurting each other is a bad thing and wouldn’t want to be victims of abuse by others.  At worst, it’s a selfish concept, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.  At best, it conveys an essential sense of the importance of civility for our continuing welfare and survival.  We do our best to love and raise our children.

In a way, civilization, when it works, is a lot like driving.  We’re flying down a crowded suburban interstate highway at seventy miles per hour, only a few feet from the car or “semi” in the next lane when a simple misjudgment can mean the end of us.  And so, with rare exceptions, we don’t change lanes without looking, don’t tailgate, don’t drive too much over the speed limit – and don’t behave in a way that would create undue risk for ourselves and other drivers.  We wear our seatbelts and stop at stop signs and red lights on local streets, even when there’s no one coming to worry about.  We respect the order of it all even though we don’t know anything about the people in the other cars except that they are people, mostly just like us.  Because well-behaved driving is the right and good thing to do.

As a nation, we are far from perfect, but we endeavor to get along among ourselves and with other countries.  Consciously, we may take our freedoms for granted, but we really do appreciate their importance – and have, on too many occasions put everything on the line to preserve them, whatever the cost.  We believe in majority rule.  For two hundred and fifty years we have moved, unevenly, but nonetheless inexorably to correct our shortcomings.

That’s what I’ve observed and what I believe.  So, why is a jerk like Donald Trump leading in the polls?  If you remember, when Donald was running for President the first time, we heard him on a recorded conversation with an entertainment television show anchor boast of how he would grab women by the crotch, without their consent.  At the time, when that story broke, I remember telling my wife that that would be that for his candidacy.

I mean, are there any of us – regardless of where we live, our gender, race, ethnicity, politics, and other differences – who would find it acceptable behavior for Donald Trump to grab your wife, your daughter or granddaughter or your mother like this?  For one thing, it’s illegal and perverted.  More importantly, it’s unacceptable.

Imagine for a moment that you’re the “Trump for President” mother or father of a high school girl volunteering in support of a candidate for, let’s say, City Council.  And that candidate grabs your daughter.  Puts his hand between…  What?  Is the image of it too vulgar for you?  That’s the point.  No surprise if you don’t at least think about slamming that candidate against the wall, but at the very least, and under no circumstances are you going to vote for him.  …So why are you voting for Donald Trump?

Maybe at first, in 2016, we didn’t fully grasp who Donald Trump really was and still is.  But then four years later, over 74 million people voted for him again when he lost to Joe Biden.  That’s 11 million more votes than when he lost the popular vote, but won an electoral college victory to defeat Hillary Clinton.  So, what am I missing?  Are there really more than 74 million Americans, whatever their specific demographics, who think the vulgarity and illegality of his behavior toward women doesn’t disqualify him as a candidate for President?

There are only two possibilities.  Either people voting for him think very, very differently than I do.  That it’s okay to grab women without their consent.  Or Trump voters were unaware or did not believe Trump did what he was boasting about.  Nonconsensual grabbing of anyone’s genitals is not something we should be willing to forgive, short of years of verifiable corrective therapy.

Flash forward to January of 2021.  Outgoing, defeated President Donald Trump instigates a coup, unsuccessfully thank goodness.  Without the slightest hyperbole, he attempts to overthrow the lawful, Constitutional government of the United States of America.  Sloppy, and poorly managed, his efforts fail.  Of course, they failed.  They failed because Donald Trump is as dumb as he is nuts.  And, most importantly, because our system prevailed.  And he’s been lying his tush off ever since then to stay out of jail.

He did a bad bad thing.  Donald Trump is a wannabee dictator who neither understands nor cares about your Constitutional rights or due process.  He’s a liar and a fraud.  As such, he’s not someone we even want to know, let alone want to be President.  Oh my gosh, no.  So why is he leading in the polls?  Why does anyone tell the survey researchers that they prefer Trump to anyone else, to any other normal candidate?  Of either party?

Once again, there are only two options.  Either many millions of American voters have very different core beliefs about what qualifies and disqualifies anyone to be President,  (In which case, we’re in a world of trouble.), or they’re poorly informed, mostly by virtue of their exposure or lack thereof to comprehensive and legitimate sources of the news.

I’m hoping it’s the latter.  In fact, let me propose an experiment to prove it.  Let me ask that pollsters restructure their polls to go something like this…

Question 1.  Under any circumstances, would you vote for a candidate who claimed that he had grabbed women by their crotches without their consent?

Question 2.  Assuming that Donald Trump was to confirm that he did, in fact, grab women in this way, would you vote for him to be President of the United States?

Question 3.  Under any circumstances, would you vote to elect someone President who had been convicted of attempting to overthrow the government of the United States?

Question 4.  Assuming that Donald Trump was to be convicted of attempting to overthrow the government, would you vote to re-elect him President?

I’m betting the results of polls that ask these questions would be very different than what the pollsters are now telling us.  That informed people don’t vote against their own instincts and best interests.

Are tens of millions of us critically uninformed?  I sure hope so because that’s something marketing can fix.  Or is it possible that some of the core, foundational elements of our society are no longer universally held by today’s Americans?

More to the point, it’s questions like the four I’ve just listed that Biden’s campaign advertising needs to build into its messaging.  Play the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump boasting about grabbing women.  Remind every voter, whatever their affiliation, of who Donald Trump really is.  And then ask the viewer, “If he were to do this…  If he were to violate your wife or your daughter, would you still support his candidacy for President of the United States?!”

And then do the same using Trump’s own voice and videos about the January 7 insurrection and, more recently, Trump’s plans for his next term in office.

The trick to the messaging is how effectively you can leverage the common wisdom and decency in all voters – independents and Republicans included, of all ages and types – to associate Donald Trump with behavior no reasonable voter would find acceptable.  Properly done, this messaging should slap enough marginal Trump voters to their senses to ensure that he never sees the inside of The White House again.