There are a lot of reasons Donald Trump is leading polls. But, really, most of the reason boil down to one thing: insiders versus outsiders.
The problem with the slate of GOP candidates is well demonstrated by John Kasich, governor of Ohio: he’s clearly an insider who knows how to work within and maneuver and manipulate the system. Worse, he’s proud of his time in government, and regularly touts it. And touts it and touts it. He loves to talk about his experience in government.
And that insider/elitist-ness is exactly what American voters are uncomfortable with politicians about right now. They see all these guys (and Hillary, too) who know the system, know how to work it, and are touting their many years working in it and that makes them uncomfortable and uneasy. They sense that there’s a lot of money in politics. Otherwise, why else would these people make a career out of politics (yes, politics, not “public service”), fighting so expensively for the highest office in the land?
There’s good evidence that this gut sense of Americans–this revolt against life long insiders–is correct. Economists have long observed the connection between the rise of interest groups (represented by well-heeled lobbyists) and the slowing of economic growth. Wrote Mancur Olson in 1982:
“An increase in the payoffs from lobbying … as compared with the payoffs from production, means more resources are devoted to politics and cartel activity and fewer resources are devoted to production,” he wrote. “This in turn influences [a society’s] attitudes and culture.”
Robert Samuelson warns that things have not changed and that we should be wary.
The dilemma for democracies is clear. Voters expect governments to cater to their needs and wants — and one person’s special interest is another’s way of life or moral crusade. But if governments cater too aggressively to interest groups, they may undermine (or have already done so) the gains in productivity and economic growth that voters also expect.
At a time when special interests are fast to find benefits from government and candidates are quick to promise results to the special interests that fund their campaigns, insider politicians represent everything that the average American sees as the problem with our system. It’s also why immigration–and the unspoken fear of sharing American government given entitlements to immigrants–plays such a prominent debate, especially with Republicans, who are, of the two parties, the explicitly more reticent to grant government benefits (but do not be fooled. Republican politicians are just as likely to grant expansions of government benefits as Democrats; they just tend to expand government differently).
Enter the outsiders. Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and, yes, Donald Trump.
Hate Trump, but he’s the epitome of someone who has made his name outside of the system. Sure, he’s racist, rude, and a bully, but he’s confident, he’s rich, he’s successful, and he has a brand America has spent years watching and being entertained by. And he didn’t get rich–at least as far as the average American can tell–through being an insider in the halls of government.
Carson and Fiorina are outsiders, too, and highly successful in their fields, but they’re newcomers. Their brands aren’t anything as well-known as Trump’s is, and so they’re fighting to get the air time. Only time will tell if they can pull it off and find a way to get ahead of the pack.
Meanwhile, the others, the career politicians, will each have to show why they aren’t a DC elitist, part of the system, feeding from the trough of government largess. They will have to show that they are not part of the problem that voters are revolting–or revolted–by and can lead where Americans, not the special interests, want them to go.