How He Did It: Trump’s Winning Strategy


Right now, the people who Donald Trump attacked directly and indirectly throughout his candidacy are wondering, “How on earth did Donald Trump win?”

Although Trump is a rookie in politics compared to Hillary Clinton, his victory in the presidential election was not without strategy.

First, let’s acknowledge his supporters.

“Trump has an incredibly loyal and enthusiastic following,” Victoria Allen, an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Queens College, said in an email interview.

His supporters have not wavered despite his scandals, she said.

But who are his biggest supporters? A shrinking population, said Anna Law, an associate professor in the political science department at Brooklyn College.

“His biggest voting bloc are white people without college degrees,” she added. “The higher level of education you have correlates with lower levels of racism and misogyny.”

Allen said that for every person who voted for Clinton because she is a woman, there is another who didn’t vote for her because she is a woman.

“I don’t think she can handle America,” said Kimberley Blackmeth, 28, of Brooklyn, who voted for Trump said. “I understand she wants to be the first woman to be elected president, but I don’t think she is the right woman.”

Still, why are his supporters so supportive of him?

“His campaign has given a voice, albeit a crude one at times, to many disaffected, ‘forgotten’ voters,” Andrew H. Sidman, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said in an email interview.

Trump’s victory, despite his flaws, is largely because of his message and its resonance with these voters, he added.

Michael Krasner, an associate professor of political science at Queens College, said in an email interview that Trump appealed to the resentments, fears and prejudices of voters, especially white working class voters. In addition, Trump capitalized on “xenophobia, racism, sexism, resentment of elites, economic dissatisfaction and real economic losses.”

He appealed to the voters’ sense that politicians had abandoned them and offered himself as a solution, Krasner said.

“He’s used a combination of classic right wing populism, authoritarianism, and the techniques of reality TV,” he added.

“His strategy is to scare [the voters] into voting for him. His strategy is fear,” Law said. “When he said American voters are out of control, they don’t know how to fact-check it. They don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong.”

However, Krasner said his supporters don’t care if he’s lying or insulting people as long as they feel Trump is representing them.

“It works to his advantage,” he said, “because people think that when the media brings up the lies, his supporters see that as an attack by the establishment that proves that Trump is new and different and for the people.”

“America needs a drastic change,” said Malik White, 24, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, who voted for Trump. “America needs a drastic change, and Hillary cannot provide that change for America. We need someone strong to take over America.”

In addition, Brian Arbour, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Trump’s strategy was largely playing on negative partisanship.

He said that despite the number of Republicans who are reluctant in supporting Trump, they are voting for him because they are against Clinton.

Clinton is the opposite of what Republicans represent, which include lower taxes and less government regulation, Arbour said.

“That’s the basic divide among Republicans and Democrats,” he added.

Trump also went with a more traditional route, campaigning in large venues and communicating with average voters on his own terms, Sidman said.

However, Joyce Gelb, a professor emerita who taught at the City College of New York in the political science department, said in an email interview that Trump’s victory is a “triumph for a fascist-like approach.”

She said he lied about the country’s economic position, the role of race and catered to fear, racism and ethnic hatred.

In addition, his “outrageous” policy proposals overshadowed Clinton’s policy speeches, Arbour said.

But, was there a better winning strategy for Trump?

“I think Trump would have been better off to attack Clinton on Benghazi,” Krasner said, “and other instances in which he could say she’d cost American lives.”

On the other hand, Allen said, “He probably has done the best he can with the momentum he is able to generate at his rallies and on television.”

“Mr. Trump’s instincts have generally been a plus for his campaign,” Sidman said.

Even so, he said Trump’s experience at playing the game has been a big negative although politics is a skill honed over time.

“Beyond statements he made in the past, throughout the campaign Mr. Trump displayed an inability to exercise even basic self-control and it has been costly,” he added.

Prior to Trump’s victory, Gelb said, “We have had demagogues in the U.S. politics but never one running for president.”

“We’ll likely have fascism within a couple of years,” Krasner said.


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