Editor’s note: In this fourth story of the series, Dr. Terry F. Buss, a fellow at the U.S. National Academy of Public Administration, explains how Donald Trump’s charismatic leadership enables him to enjoys increasingly wide support, but has very low ‘favorability’ ratings.
Part 3 of this series illustrates that Donald Trump exists in a policy vacuum. But why, then, is he so popular? Why is he leading in national polls for president over Clinton? And, why does he have disapproval ratings from 60-70 percent of American voters?
Trump supporters are thirsting for a new kind of leadership that rejects what might be the failed approach represented by Hillary Clinton. Rather than leading from behind and soft diplomacy, Trump supporters want a president who will reassert U.S. leadership around the globe. They want someone who will stand up to America’s adversaries. They want to restore the respect for America that they believe has been lost. They want their culture back.
In addition, they feel that party leaders do not listen to them, neither do they respect their needs and suffering. Supporters want a leader to stand up against the “establishment” in political parties, Congress, and the elites in business and the media.
Trump, earlier than any other politician saw the opportunity to connect with people who feel disaffected and alienated.
Bear in mind that Trump has a lot of working class supporters in spite of the fact that he is a billionaire. Why? Trump proposes to use his knowledge of the rich to exploit them for the benefit of the less fortunate. Who better to attack the establishment than a multi-billionaire?
Trump’s genius has been in avoiding policy and presenting himself as a strong leader who can handle anything. His outrageous policy statements are viewed by supporters as a willingness on his part to tell the truth. His personal attacks on other politicians reveal his fearlessness.
Trump never reads a speech, neither does he use a teleprompter: this separates him out from nearly every other politician.
Trump often goes crazy—literally—either in person or more often on twitter, which is viewed by supporters as a show of passion. Trump is 69, but is as energetic as a 25 year old.
Above all, Trump is an entertainer, and he has brought showmanship to politics. His supporters realize this. Being an entertainer, he is able to get away with the most outrageous behavior that would not be possible for other politicians. For example, he calls women fat and ugly, then justifies this by saying this is how one talks about women who are in the entertainment business. So, it’s OK!
Trump is what academics call a “charismatic leader,” meaning he employs personality and charm to motivate others to follow him. The strength of Trump’s charisma is what draws such intense support, particularly when it has an appealing vision—“Make America Great Again.”
All of this provides insight into why Trump enjoys increasingly wide support, but has very low “favorability” ratings. Supporters seem to be willing to ignore his negatives because his leadership qualities greatly outweigh them. For many, though, his negatives are his strengths: his aggressiveness might serve him well in negotiating with strong opponents.
The conclusion on Trump is: leadership “trumps” policy!
But there is a downside to this. Trump’s charisma is so strong and compelling that he risks becoming a “cult figure” with supporters who are too fanatical.
If this happens, it will be disastrous for America, as it has been throughout history.