Worse than Trump: The Trump supporters January 5, 2016 24 Comments Share tweet Terence Zhao Columnist By: Terence Zhao | Columnist After countless controversial statements composing what seemed like an eternity, most of the country, the media and even the Republican leadership has moved to denounce Donald Trump’s most recent “ban all Muslims” remark. Thus brings to full circle Trump’s long journey from being an irrelevant, hilarious “carnival barker” who says crazy things to a very real, very relevant, very frightening and very dangerous GOP frontrunner who says even crazier things. As Hillary Clinton puts it, he isn’t funny anymore. He’s dangerous. But why? Why has Donald Trump only become dangerous now, and not earlier? It’s not as if Trump only recently began spewing out racist, hateful, divisive, or utterly untrue statements — quite the opposite: That kind of rhetoric has dominated the Trump campaign literally since day one. Case in point: his now-overshadowed “Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals” spiel was from his June 2015 announcement speech. If we’re just looking at those, it is nonsensical to say that Trump was funny in the beginning, or more dangerous today. In a twisted way, the Trump campaign deserves some credit for being consistent — consistently bigoted, sure, but consistent. And so, at least in terms of rhetoric and policy, Trump is equally dangerous today as he was in June. But something did change between when Trump first entered the race in June of 2015 and today: his level of support. Back when Trump announced his candidacy (and for a long time thereafter), pundits — even the most right wing ones (ones who are also most likely to support Trump today) — didn’t take him seriously. Even when Trump rose in the polls and became the GOP frontrunner, there were plenty of pundits who were convinced that the Trump campaign would collapse in a week or two. Now, the next week or two appears to be never. Trump is still firmly in the lead, and about half of all Americans consider him a serious candidate, up from a quarter at the beginning of his campaign. That, I think, is what warrants Trump’s transition from “funny” to “dangerous” — not a change in the candidate’s ideas, but what has become increasingly clear to be a very firm and sizable backing for those ideas. This begs the question: if Donald Trump is only dangerous when he has a lot of supporters, then is it really he who is dangerous, or is it his followers? After all, anybody can run for president and make crazy statements — need I remind everyone that Vermin Supreme is once again running this year, and will no doubt generate a bit of press coverage as his 2012 campaign did. Kanye’s hypothetical 2020 bid was in the same vein. But the coverage they get is not political — it’s just the media inviting the country to gawk at the novelty and ridiculousness of the statements, rather than reporting them as serious news. At the end of the day, nobody worries about the fiscal consequences of Vermin Supreme buying every American a pony — because he won’t win the election, because he has no supporters, and the ridiculousness he invites along the way is usually presumed (not unreasonably) as nothing more than attention-seeking publicity stunts. The Trump era started out precisely like this — covered as more of a hilarious sideshow than a serious political campaign. The Huffington Post even relegated Trump coverage to the entertainment section just to drive home the point. The pundits’ belief that Trump’s campaign would fizzle out on its own seems oddly ludicrous now, but is quite reasonable if one had worked under the assumption that the campaign was a publicity stunt, because the buzz generated by those does indeed go away on its own after a few brief weeks. And that should have been how the Trump campaign ended. Granted, Trump’s wealth and prior notoriety can both serve to draw out his two minutes of fame in this hypothetical situation, but sooner or later, the public’s attention runs short, and the spotlight shifts away from Trump and his poisonous words. Of course, this isn’t what happened. The outlandish proposals pumped out by the Trump campaign that pundits assumed to be publicity stunts ended up attracting real and, as we can all unfortunately tell from Trump’s massive lead in the GOP polls, substantial support. Whether these were intended as unserious publicity stunts or a genuine effort to capture the support of the voters they did is beyond me. However, what is clear is that Trump supporters legitimized as serious politics a series of attention-garners that pundits and media from right and left alike were ready to dismiss as a joke. In other words, Trump would never have ascended to this realm of political relevancy without his now-supporters buying into his — oh, let’s call it a platform — to begin with. So next time when Trump says something disagreeable, as he inevitably will, perhaps you will consider directing more of your anger at Trump supporters than the Donald himself, since they are what’s actually making the campaign’s continued existence possible. Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu. campaign trail GOP trump 2016-01-05 Terence Zhao January 5, 2016 24 Comments Share tweet Subscribe Click here to subscribe to our daily newsletter of top headlines.