Donald Trump is repeatedly attacked by his enemies and gently critiqued by well-wishers for being an ill-informed, brash, broad-strokes kind of politician. But careful analysis suggests that he is actually a lot more intelligent than both friends and foes realize. A careful look at his speech patterns reveal that he has a whole meta-view of language that make his opponents seems retarded by comparison, as described in this dissection of his speech patterns.
Yet further proof of Trump’s genius can be found in the way he has handled the David Duke controversy and various calls to “disavow” David Duke’s supposed endorsement. It has been reasonably argued that Duke did not endorse Trump, and in a strict sense he hasn’t.
But it is clear that Trump is in fact the preferred candidate of White advocates and race realists, like David Duke, and this position brings with it a two-fold danger.
Firstly, there is the obvious danger of being associated with views that are still regarded as toxic by many voters, and, secondly, there is the opposite danger of disavowing too strongly.
With regard to the first danger, this will be more of a problem after he wins the Republican nomination, assuming that the momentum stays with him and the Republican Party hierarchy limits itself to petty chicanery in its attempt to derail him. After that point, in the head-to-head contest with the Democratic candidate, he will have to win over large numbers of people who will be put off if the accusation that he is a “racist” can be made to stick.
We have to assume that Trump is aware of this danger and is developing a strategy to deal with it, possibly drafting in Ben Carson as a running mate. As someone living in Japan, I also noted last year with some interest that Trump’s Miss Universe organization oversaw the selection of the first mixed-race “Miss Universe Japan.” Would it be too tin-foil-hat to speculate that Trump himself may have been behind that decision, in order to have it ready to pull out at some point in the campaign to prove his non-racist bona fides?
But while being seen as racist is the most obvious danger, the second danger, that of “disavowing” too strongly, is more interesting and revealing. For a start, it has two distinct aspects. Firstly, it puts Trump in the position of dancing to someone else’s tune and therefore looking weak, and secondly it risks alienating racially aware or partially racially aware supporters.
Regarding the first aspect, Ramzpaul has described this as a “compliance test” set by organizations like the ADL to demonstrate their hegemonic power over Trump. Regardless of the racial aspect, for Trump to jump up and down on command and jump through hoops detracts from one of his main appeals — the fact that the voters think he is his own man. In fact, it could be argued that bending over backwards to reassure voters he is “not racist” would even lose him some Black votes, as many Blacks are attracted by Trump’s alpha male qualities.
The second element is, of course, racial. For many White voters, their support for Trump is a form of coded or masked White advocacy — a textbook example of implicit Whiteness. From his statements, Trump himself does not seem to be a racially aware person and can best be described as a civic nationalist. Evidence of this might be his Jewish son-in-law, although his comment that “this was not in the plan [I didn’t really want her to marry a Jew and become Jewish?], but I’m very glad it happened [this definitely helps my image of not being racially conscious and being pro-Israel?]” could be construed a number of ways. But, despite his lack of strong evidence for White consciousness, his campaign, with its themes of sensible immigration control and it anti-politically-correct tone, has become a lightning rod for White discontent.
Trump’s awareness of this racial aspect must remain an open question, but his handling of the David Duke controversy suggests that there is at least some awareness. In this case the timing was very significant, with the media deciding to raise this issue in the immediate run-up to Super Tuesday, with polls showing Trump locked in battle across a range of important Southern States with Ted Cruz.
A few days before Super Tuesday, the Duke question was put to Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union” by Jake Tapper, who asked him, “Do you condemn David Duke and say you don’t want his vote or that of other White supremacists in this election?”
Rather than doing what other politicians would do in this position — namely leap at the chance to show their anti-racist credentials and get a pat on the head — Trump refused to answer the question directly and instead reframed things along the lines of “Why are we even talking about this?”
The end result of this was that those looking for ammunition to call Trump a “racist” were left grasping thin air, but, more importantly, racially conscious Whites as well as Trump supporters who feel in their bones that this election is in fact about race were left feeling that Trump “understands.”
In subsequent encounters, Trump more or less tacked between these two points of denying his opponents easy “racist” ammunition while dog-whistling to racially motivated supporters that he was not a hoop jumper for the ADL.
The subtlety and sense of Trump’s approach was revealed both on Super Tuesday and the following primaries, where he scored narrow victories over Ted Cruz in key Southern states, including Lousiana, David Duke’s home state, where we can deduce that his refusal to go overboard denouncing Duke probably bolstered his vote by a few vital percentage points. In Arkansas he beat Cruz with 33% to 30% of the vote, in Kentucky by 36% to 34%, while in Louisiana it was 41% to 38%.
If Cruz had managed to take these three states, Trump would be looking a lot less dominant and presidential than he is now. It is reasonable to suppose that Trump’s refusal to throw Duke under the bus so conveniently provided by the mainstream media in the immediate run-up to these important contests aided his victories. It also demonstrated the candidate’s tactical cunning and high intelligence.