The mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) media is focused on Donald Trump‘s troubling categorizations of people based on race. That’s important. It’s the media’s responsibility to highlight Trump’s xenophobia and seemingly racist statements — and to ensure those regrettable aspects of the Trump candidacy are front and center in the narrative. But it’s a mistake to believe that this is Trump’s main appeal. To infer from Trump’s insensitive statements on race, etc. that his supporters are all raging xenophobes is wrong. Some are, yes. But many more are simply disenfranchised: to them Trump represents a fresh political start because he scans as not accountable to people who have brought us the status quo.
Here lies the main appeal of Trump for his supporters: the perception that he really isn’t beholden to the big money interests that have left them behind. Whether that’s true or not isn’t relevant. But racism and demagoguery, while contributing factors, don’t appear to be the true driving forces of Trump’s popularity. The main part of Trump’s appeal — and his point of differentiation — is purported independence, very succinctly expressed in the August tweet below:
I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2015
After all, you can get xenophobia from other candidates, too. But neither Marco Rubio nor Ted Cruz can credibly tell you they don’t need anyone’s money.