It’s not his policies that are setting him back. Just look at Brexit.
Conventional wisdom holds that a “ceiling” prevents Donald Trump’s support from rising above a large minority of the electorate — that his strongly nativist, anti-trade, inward-looking policy positions will never appeal to a majority. I don’t buy it. If Trump doesn’t attract a majority, as it appears he won’t, it isn’t just because of his positions. It’s also because of his own failure to correct his incredible ineptitude as a campaigner. We saw the evidence just a few days ago.
At a Trump rally in Jackson, Miss., last Wednesday, the U.K. Independence Party’s former leader, Nigel Farage, gave a six-minute speech — and if you want to see how starkly different this election could be if Trump knew how to campaign, just watch it. Farage was Britain’s leading voice in favor of Brexit; getting Britain out of the EU was the UKIP’s only objective. The coalition he and other Brexit advocates attracted was markedly similar to Trump’s supporters: nativist, anti-trade, inward-looking. And it won, with 52% of an extraordinarily large voter turnout.
Obviously, we could cite a thousand differences between the U.S. and U.K. voting environments. But watch that video and imagine if Trump were half as good as Farage, whose first words were, “I come to you from the United Kingdom with a message of hope and a message of optimism.” Has Trump ever framed his message that way?
Farage was articulate and polished — not to mention foreign — yet he whipped the Trump crowd into a frenzy. His words were carefully chosen, the words of a serious, professional campaigner, yet he spoke them with such energy and even joy that he was far more effective with Trump’s supporters than Trump’s own unhinged, ad lib tirades are. Grimly serious at moments, funny at others, Farage won the crowd totally.
The video surely makes the blood of Trump’s opponents run cold, with its frightening glimpse of what could happen if Trump were that good, especially against a drab campaigner like Hillary Clinton. Trump supporters may remember it wistfully after the election as a reminder of what might have been.
For all of us, it’s reminder that leadership is intensely personal and human, not a collection of abstract traits. It’s certainly not a collection of policy positions. Trump most likely won’t win, but we must never say, as so many said about Brexit in Britain, that it can’t happen here.