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Can Donald be the Republicans' Trump card?

By Colin Speakman ( Updated: 2015-08-10 16:36

Can Donald be the Republicans' Trump card?

US Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump holds his financial statement while formally announcing his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York June 16, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

The first candidates' debate for the Republican Party, commonly referred to as the GOP (Grand Old Party), nomination for the next US President, televised on America's Fox channel, drew a huge audience for a live event, rivaling some sports games. The explanation was the expectation of more frank talking and/or outrageous comments, depending on how you see Donald Trump. Was it more entertainment than serious politics?

Trump is not your usual career politician, not a former state governor nor senator nor congressman. He has donated in the past to both Democrat and Republican causes. He is not the first such businessman to try to become President directly from a successful business career. Ross Perot tried in 1992, but as the independent candidate for the Reform Party. He took votes from both major parties but did not get enough. Trump is clearly not a Republican in the traditional mould, as exemplified by former President Ronald Reagan who galvanized support around conservative family values, but he stands a better chance than as an independent - something he has threatened to do if he does not get the Republican nomination. However that could split the Republican vote, so if he is not the chosen one, the GOP hope he will go quietly. That is unlikely!

He is a publicity machine and the more he captures media headlines, the more pressure he is under to spit out sound bites that go viral. That leads to some off the cuff ill thought remarks such as an attack on the Fox News female moderator of the debate. His remarks have led him to be disinvited from a right wing conservative event and other candidates are quick to distance themselves from him too. Yet he still leads the field in the popular vote polls. Why is this?

Every so often, the USA goes through a period of relative decline and the 2008 Financial Crisis sparked one. We hear of a lost decade for America's middle class, with incomes flat and we hear that the current college leaver generation could be the first to do less well than their parents. This allows a would-be leader to harness the concerns that America is not winning any more and it takes a successful businessman, a proven winner, to change the fortunes. Trump also appeals to those who like straight talking and are not too diplomatic or bound by political correctness. He hits the right buttons for some who are mad as hell and won't take any more.

What all this translates into as policy is less clear. It is bound to stay that way until the field narrows - some candidates not receiving good ratings will run out of sponsors' financial support. We can be sure Trump will not lack funds. When more media time can be given to a smaller pool of candidates, more questions can be asked about policy and at some point the entertaining answers will need to give way to the politically realistic policies - especially on international affairs. That is some way off and much can change but Trump looks like he is in there for the long haul in these debates. We await the next performance with anticipation of more headline making.

The author is an economist and director of China programs at CAPA, The Global Education Network, a US-UK-based organization that cooperates with Capital Normal University and East China Normal University.

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