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What Is Donald Trump's Appeal To Voters? He Represents Their Anger.


The success of Donald Trump has so defied the conventional wisdom of political punditry that a new genre of analysis has come into being. Call it Trumpology. It consists of reaching for exotic explanations from surprising sources. For example, Barton Swaim, who wrote "The Speechwriter: A Brief Education In Politics," hears magic in the Donald's diction. Think word order. Think timing.

BARTON SWAIM: Donald Trump somehow has the comedic sense to put the bang word, I would call it, at or near the end of the sentence.

SIEGEL: And Swaim says that makes Trump funny like a sitcom. Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip "Dilbert" has also been struck by Trump's language skills. Adams declares him a master wizard.

SCOTT ADAMS: Really, a combination of his skills in negotiating, persuading, his knowledge of psychology and business in general and the idea that nothing's an accident, that all of Trump's success is based on his linguistic mastery and his ability to persuade.

SIEGEL: Trump is playing 3-D chess, Scott Adams says; the others are playing in two dimensions. Rosalind Wiseman says it's more like Trump is playing dirty. Her book "Queen Bees And Wannabes" inspired the movie "Mean Girls," and she says Trump bullies the other candidates.

ROSALIND WISEMAN: He feels justified in insulting them and demeaning them and ridiculing them. The whole time, he seems to feel completely self-righteous and that he's in the right for doing this, whatever he wants to do. And in that way, he actually often is acting a lot less mature than a lot of the teenagers that I work with.

SIEGEL: Dana Milbank of The Washington Post agrees about the bullying. He wrote that Trump's rivals should check out stopbullying.gov, the website for a public service campaign run by the Department of Health and Human Services. If that strikes you as a little lowbrow, liberal blogger Judd Legum turns to the French philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes. Trump is a wrestler; the others are boxers. As Barthes wrote, quoted by Legum, a boxing match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time. I'll let you wrestle with that one. Meanwhile, we'll talk with Mark McKinnon, who was chief media strategist for President George W. Bush. McKinnon's in Austin, Texas, today. Welcome to the program.

MARK MCKINNON: Thanks - glad to be here.

SIEGEL: Is Trump such a novel phenomenon that you would rewrite your playbook or turn to stopbullying.gov or Roland Barthes?

MCKINNON: (Laughter) Yeah. He's completely writing the handbook for everything that we know about politics. But then again, politics is all about conventional wisdom. We base it all on history. And you know, if you look at the electorate today, it really shouldn't be that surprising because people are so fed up with the system that along comes this guy with huge brass clankers throwing up a middle finger salute to Washington, and that's exactly the message that people want to send today. They love this alpha male. They like this predator hunter who's tapping into our caveman DNA. Voters just want someone to go out, hunt and kill some prey, and that prey is the politicians in Washington.

SIEGEL: He's also very anti-illegal immigrant in a party whose base is very anti-illegal immigrant. He's a very rich businessman in a party that greatly honors businessmen and nominated a very rich guy - Mitt Romney last time. Maybe he's just a man for his times in the party. Is that the explanation?

MCKINNON: That's what politics is all about. It's all about timing and being the right guy with the right message at the right time. And people are fed. They've hit the network threshold. They're mad as hell, and they don't want to take it anymore. And Donald Trump is the perfect representation of their anger.

SIEGEL: Do you think this can go on for another year, or do you assume that it peters out sometime in the spring?

MCKINNON: I think there's three scenarios. Scenario one is the conventional wisdom, which is that Super PACs will unload on him; Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush and others will beat up on him and that that will ultimately mean that he fades away. If that was going to happen, it would've happened by now.

I think a more likely scenario is that he sustains now, goes all the way through the nominating process and actually gathers enough delegates - not the nomination, but enough delegates - to be a real nuisance at the convention where he can leverage some agreement or get something out of it so that he can walk away with a win.

Scenario three is wild and improbable, but think about it. He starts to gather enough delegates where it actually looks like he could win the nomination. The Republican establishment completely freaks out. They get together and say, this is unacceptable, but it looks like it's going to happen. So we go off, and we create a new Republican Party as an Independent candidacy and draft somebody who's tanned, rested and ready to go and with a lot of money, somebody like Mitt Romney.

SIEGEL: Can we just revisit one phrase you just used? You said the Republican establishment. If you were to just name three people who are part of that group, whom would you say? I'm trying to figure out who the establishment of either party is at this point.

MCKINNON: Well, that's a good point, Robert. I mean, the fact is that it will be the big-money donors who get together and say, we need to figure out an alternate solution. And it will be all about the money and who they back.

SIEGEL: Last night's debate was the first time when the other candidates seemed not to assume that Donald Trump will sink of his own weight, but they better try to torpedo him fast. How do you think he did?

MCKINNON: I think Trump did just fine. I don't - I mean, he took a lot of shots, but I didn't think - I saw nothing that suggested that it was a mortal wound. But in presidential campaigns, people don't really vote on issues. They vote on a constellation of attributes. The attributes that are most important are strength, trust and values. And the most important of those attributes is the procession of the candidate as a strong leader. And (laughter) the strongest guy on the stage that exudes that sort of confidence, strength and power is obviously Donald Trump.

SIEGEL: Mark McKinnon, thanks for talking with us about it.

MCKINNON: Hey, kick it hard, Robert. Thanks.

SIEGEL: Mark McKinnon spoke to us from Austin, Texas. He's a media strategist and was chief media strategist for President George W. Bush. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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