The American news media love Donald Trump. He gets them ratings. If they show him waving his arms and ranting, they get viewers. They therefore pretend that Trump is a serious candidate because putting him on the airwaves making moronic and offensive comments is entertaining. But presidential elections are not reality TV. This is self-governance. And just as money is now making a mockery of American democracy, the news media’s obsession with ratings is now making a mockery of American politics.
So, here’s the question. Is Donald Trump is serious candidate for president? The obvious answer is, or appears to be, “yes.” After all, he leads all of the other Republican candidates in the polls. So he must be a serious candidate for president. But let’s take a closer look.
Donald Trump leads all Republican candidates with roughly 22 percent of Republicans supporting him. But only 25 percent of Americans now identify as Republicans, the lowest number, by the way, in more than a quarter-of-a-century. So what does that tell us? Well, Trump is the favorite of 22 percent of 25 percent of all Americans. Let’s see, that comes out to 5.5 percent of all Americans. That means that just over 1 in 20 Americans supports Donald Trump for president.
That is not really very impressive. For the sake of comparison, it is worth noting that while 5.5 percent of Americans believe Trump should be president, 18 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth, 23 percent of Americans believe they have seen a ghost, 10 percent of Americans believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim, 22 percent of Americans believe that President George W. Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks and 10 percent of Americans believe that the moon landing was faked. Gee, that 5.5 percent number does not look so good now, does it?
After all, Donald Trump is leading the Republican field of seventeen competitors. But keep in mind that the other sixteen candidates are dividing up what we might reasonably think to be the “sane” part of the Republican Party. Imagine if there were seventeen candidates and sixteen of them believed that the earth revolves around the sun and only one of them maintained that the sun revolves around the earth. In a poll, the sixteen would divide the 82 percent of the voters who believed the earth revolves around the sun and the idiot would get 18 percent. That is pretty much what’s happening now in the Republican Party. But no one in the media wants to speak the truth, because that would turn politics into politics instead of a circus.
way to measure this is in poll match ups between the Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton. In head-to-head races, Clinton defeats every one of them, but who has the absolutely worst result in such a context the Donald, who loses by an astonishing 16 percent, or 6 percent worse than every other Republican candidate.
So, really, it is time to get serious. Trump is the guy who thinks the sun revolves around the earth. Let’s treat him that way and move on to something serious like American democracy.
Geoffrey R. Stone
Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago