Given Trump’s incessant popularity, many are wondering whether Trump could have won the presidency before 2016. Was there something special about that year? Or could we have had President Trump sooner?
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
Eleven Years Ago
The year is 2012. Everyone’s dancing along to Gangnam Style, Clint Eastwood is talking to an empty chair, Obama is about to take the white house, and Trump is just a wealthy reality TV show star. But if he’d decided to campaign against Obama instead of firing fame-hungry Americans from his show, would he have won?
Some Say Yes
Some Americans believe he could have beaten Obama or perhaps even other past presidents. One person speculated that there was a key reason for this. In their words, “He never apologizes or even admits he was wrong. So, maybe even way back when he could have gotten away with his schtick by never apologizing.”
Many Unapologetic Politicians
Others weren’t so sure that Trump could win solely by being unapologetic. “This didn’t work for Bush, though, who famously never admitted mistakes,” one person pointed out.
Master of His Craft
A few believe that Trump is a gifted speaker and would have known how to adjust his message to ensure he won whenever he ran. One person theorized that if he said the things he said in 2016 in 2012 or before, “He’d be met with ridicule. But he would not have been saying them. He is a master of understanding just how far he can rile the crowd.”
The Time Was Ripe
Still, many believed that 2016 was a uniquely perfect time for Trump to rise, regardless of his speaking style. “I don’t think this could have been done earlier,” one commenter said. “Media, especially conservative media, has told them [Republicans] how terrible things are.”
News Outlet Darling
“Trump became popular thanks to the media that promoted him,” another person agreed. “Since he’s really good at taking advantage of any opportunity to promote himself, he’s a gift to modern media.”
Not Just the Media
Another commenter said it went beyond the media. “Televangelists and followers of prosperity theology have been preparing the populace for someone like Trump for decades. Right-wing politicians have been preparing the populace for someone like Trump for decades,” they said.
Don’t Blame the Press
Others agreed that 2016 was unique, but not because of any media or influencer push. Rather, they thought economics was to blame. “The working class suffered horribly in the 2008 financial crisis and had barely recovered 8 years later,” one person pointed out.
Told the Truth
As many were struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, Trump came along with the perfect message, these commenters said. As one put it, “Trump won over his base by stating what they knew was true: The rich buy politicians.”
Others thought Trump was uniquely suited to win in 2016 because of Obama. As one person put it, “The anger over the US electing its first black president, with a Muslim-sounding name, was a unique opportunity for him, I think.”
Not a Race Issue
Several pushed back on that sentiment, though. “A larger share of Trump’s vote were minorities in 2020 than 2016,” one person pointed out. Others noted there were many examples of two-time Obama voters opting to vote for Trump.
One person thought the GOP was uniquely weak post-President Bush, which gave Trump the perfect opportunity. “The GOP is broken and has been since before Trump got into politics,” they said. “It wouldn’t have allowed Trump to take over in the past, but it’s been too weak to stop him.”
Others thought that, by 2016, many Americans had become sick of both political parties. They saw Trump as the anti-establishment candidate. “When Trump does things that are destructive, they cheer,” one person noted. “These people didn’t exist in the past much.”
Loss of Civility
Some thought that the nation was more civil in the early 2000s, but that was somehow lost after Obama’s presidency. “The politics of civility were very different back in those days,” one person explained. “Even if there was partisanship, civility was still a thing people expected of their politicians. But that all changed post-Obama.”
Proof Is in the Pudding
Some said the fact that Trump didn’t win until 2016 proved he couldn’t have in any earlier election. “If someone could’ve run with a Trump-style platform any earlier than he did, it would have happened. And people tried. There’s a reason we don’t remember.”
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