Here’s how Trump weaponizes crackpot ideas to maintain a firm grip on his MAGA base
If President Donald Trump is reelected in November, it won’t be because the majority of Americans share his views, but because of his ability to fire up his MAGA base, whip them into a frenzy, address their grievances and get them to the polls in large numbers. Trump, journalist Michael Kruse explains in a Politico article headlined “Trump’s Art of the Seal,” knows and understands his audience — and one of the things that has kept that audience excited is his ability to take fringe ideas, get them discussed in mainstream venues and weaponize them.
Trump has inspired widespread discussion of crackpot conspiracy theories ranging from birtherism (the racist claim that President Barack Obama was really born in Kenya instead of the U.S.) to the CrowdStrike theory — a belief that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. It was Trump’s pursuit of the CrowdStrike theory, Kruse explains, that led to him being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.
During President Barack Obama’s first term, Kruse explains, Trump’s “proto-political operation was essentially a two-man team” consisting of veteran GOP operative Roger Stone and his protégé Sam Nunberg.
“One of Nunberg’s self-appointed tasks was to help Trump understand what the masses on the right really wanted, and one way he did that was by listening to Mark Levin’s increasingly popular radio show,” Kruse recalls. “The people who were tuning in most intently to Levin, Nunberg thought, were the people most likely to vote for Trump if he launched an actual bid.”
Nunberg, according to Kruse, helped Trump realize that the far-right Tea Party movement was as angry at the GOP establishment as it was at Democrats.
“The Tea Party, in the estimation of Levin and his listeners, didn’t start as a reaction to the liberal outrages of President Barack Obama — it started as a reaction to what they viewed as the inconsistently hardline conservative policies of President George W. Bush,” Kruse observes. “Amnesty for immigrants, for instance? An absolute no-go.”
As Trump’s movement grew, Kruse notes, it didn’t do so by appealing to conservative intellectuals.
“For the better part of the past half-century, Trump, 73, has extracted from an array of similar sources — from the New York Post’s dishy Page Six to the toxicity of Twitter to far-right websites and lowbrow TV — a knack for knowing what people want. Not all people, but many people.”
Poll after poll has demonstrated that Trump is unpopular with the majority of Americans. But among his hardcore MAGA base, he is still quite popular. And Kruse wraps up his Politico article by describing the stranglehold Trump maintains on the Republican Party in 2020.
“If Trump began his political ascent as a follower — cannily co-opting ideas that resonated with a certain segment of the electorate — in doing so, he clearly has proceeded to forge a following of his own,” Kruse explains. “He has become a leader of those who are willing to be led in this way, solidifying lockstep support from the agenda-setting base of his party as well as its kingpins and figureheads, who parrot him the way he once did Levin.”