Over the last few days, Donald Trump has made the following statements:
- He twice claimed—despite no evidence that it happened—that “thousands” of Muslims in northern New Jersey were cheering as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001;
- He gave support to people who beat up a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies, calling the activist “disgusting” and saying “maybe he deserved to get roughed up.”
- He tweeted statistics that vastly overstate the percentage of homicides committed by blacks.
In other words, it was a fairly typical weekend for the Republican presidential frontrunner.
Presidential prognosticators are long past the point of declaring that any particular outlandish policy endorsement or unsubstantiated claim would be the one that would doom Trump's seemingly far-fetched 2016 candidacy. The billionaire’s staying power has made fools of plenty of those pundits, and the latest polls suggest that Trump’s success has come not in spite of his famously loose lips, but because of them.
CBS News on Sunday released surveys of Republicans in the two early voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire. Both found Trump with commanding leads and maintaining the support of just under a third of the GOP primary electorate. In Iowa, he held steady while Ben Carson fell to third place behind Ted Cruz, while in New Hampshire Trump’s percentage was more than double that of his nearest rival. Yet the most interesting finding came when the pollsters asked Trump’s supporters (as well as Carson’s) what their “favorite thing” about the candidate was. In both states, the clear winner was, “He says things others are afraid to say.” Hardly any respondents said they were most drawn to Trump’s “personal success story”—which is more or less the stated rationale for his candidacy. Nor did many people cite his “outlook for America,” which despite his ubiquitous slogan is generally pretty grim. About one-quarter of Trump supporters in each state pointed to a more general but related reason: “He’s not a typical politician.”
Trump has always been well aware of this key source of his appeal. He’s been railing about the scourge of “political correctness” for months, and he’s accurately observed that a sizable segment of the population is tired of it. The truth has never mattered much to him—recall that his transition to national politics was itself built on the lie that President Obama was born outside the United States.