When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters for a “pep rally” at Ladd-Peebles near University of South Alabama, he is expected to draw about 30,000 supporters — breaking Bernie Sanders‘ record for the most to attend an event for any 2016 candidate.
Although Trump has been dismissed as the “candidate of the week” by some, Harvard University government and sociology professor Theda Skocpol says the energy is real, and that it may well be here to stay until the GOP primary ballots are cast — and beyond.
“What is happening with Trump is not a fluke,” Skocpol, author of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, said to the Boston Globe. “Yes, he is a great entertainer, but he is able to take advantage of a number of dynamics in American politics as they exist right now. This is an important moment.”
James Pindell wrote in Friday morning’s Globe that the New York businessman is seizing upon a rare political fervor stemming from support from what Trump correctly identifies as what President Richard Nixon called the “silent majority”: mainstream Americans who are normally apolitical, but who may be activated by a candidate to appeals to their dormant beliefs.
Attempting to explain the rich vein of political support Trump has tapped, Princeton historian Richard White drew parallels to a leader who left a profound footprint on Southern politics: Louisiana Gov. and U.S. Sen. Huey P. Long, aka The Kingfish.
“[Long] spoke so directly to the people, and that is Donald Trump’s appeal. It is a purely personal relationship with his listeners. It is not based on factual issues,” said White, who also warned that individual connection may have consequences beyond the personal. “The oversimplification of issues is very dangerous and when you combine that with negativity and fear, the combination is classic populism.”
Regardless of whether Trump’s run continues to have electoral — or public policy — implications beyond 2015, his run is already a revealing and historically significant chapter in American politics, Harvard historian Jill Lepore said.
“If Trump dropped out of the race tomorrow, his run — his intense appeal, even if it turns out to have been brief — would still be worth reckoning with, as a matter of history,” Lepore said.