July 29 2015 12:41 PM

Billionaire candidate only needs a small fraction of voters

trumpface
Donald Trump
Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Everyone is talking about him. Republican voters support him. And that's what he needs right now to be a Presidential contender.

But what if former Democrat Donald Trump was more interested in exploiting the press, the politicians who seek its attention and the election process that feeds the narrative, than actually winning the Presidency?

Because if that's his goal, he's doing a great job.

Like parrots in an echo chamber, Democrats hold hands and point to the self-serving and out-of-touch billionaire as the symbol of their opposition.

And with universal negative media coverage, from MSNBC to Fox News, Republican politicians react predictably by trying to distance themselves from their mane-challenged contender; going so far as to suggest that Donald Trump is going to ruin their party.

Mind you, this is at a time when just 25 percent of Americans self-identify as Republicans and just about 20 percent of those Republicans participate regularly in primary elections.

But, according to longtime party leaders like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry, Donald Trump is going to be the ruin of the Republican Party.

Let's think about that logic:

Donald Trump has taken positions that have earned him consistent negative coverage by the "left" and the "right" media.

Yet, despite this wallowing of negative press and high negative poll numbers with the American people, he is leading the Republican Party polls by a fairly wide margin.

Therefore, Donald Trump is ruining the Republican Party.

Now let's step back a bit. 

If there is one thing we should all know about Donald Trump by now it's that he has no shame. This means that he doesn't care what you or I think about him on a day-to-day basis.

Trump cares more about things like the success of his business. And today, his "business" is in competing in the Republican Party primary.

To be successful at this business, Donald Trump needs to win a significant percentage of the 25 percent of Americans who are faithful to the Republican Party who also participate regularly in Republican primaries. Crunch a few numbers—this is about 5 percent of the American people.

Literally, no one else matters to the success of Trump's Republican primary business venture.

He's a businessman and a smart one. Right now, why would Trump care about anything else but securing his spot in the Presidential debates?

The pollsters only poll Republican voters who consistently turn out in Republican primary elections ("The 5 percent").

Those who finish highest in the polls get to participate in the presidential debates.

So, the 5 percent determine whether a candidate will or will not be in the presidential debates.

And because you can't be taken seriously as a presidential candidate without being on the debate stage, there is no more important voters to Trump than those in the 5 percent—the Republican Party faithful who come out to vote in the Republican primary rain or shine.

It doesn't matter if these voters hold widely unpopular opinions that could "ruin the party."

It doesn't matter if these voters represent a small fraction of the broad and diverse American electorate.

The fact is this small block of partisan voters are more important than the rest of the American people because they set the stage for the presidential debate, the public discussion that evolves (or devolves) around it, and in turn, the "viable" candidates that the American people get to choose from.

That is why candidates who languish in the polls have to find some way, any way, to get in front of these voters before the pollsters are done doing their magic.

When considered in this context, the Trump bashing by Republicans has a lot less to do with Trump, or the Republican Party, than it does the business of politics.

Struggling candidates need to get their poll numbers high enough to get into the debates. When there are 16 candidates in a crowded field, all fighting for the same small group of voters, they know they need the press more than anything else, because it makes them stand out as viable.

When candidates like Lindsey Graham and Rick Perry try to compete for coverage by attacking Trump, they just feed right into Trump's rational business strategy.

Why else would he read Lindsey Graham's cell phone number out loud in a public speech? It keeps Trump on top of the news cycle.

Why else would he post a picture on Instagram of Rick Perry in his office asking for campaign donations just a few years ago with #hypocrite written below. Back on top of the news.

Being the most controversial or interesting candidate keeps you in the news.

Being in the news increases your legitimacy as a viable candidate.

Taking positions that appeal to the party faithful keeps your poll numbers high.

Keeping your poll numbers high guarantees you a spot in the presidential debates.

Trust in the media has declined dramatically. Yet we the media spent an entire news cycle devoted to Donald Trump reading a phone number out loud.

Membership in political parties has declined dramatically.

And the Republican Party blames Trump for pandering to its own base of voters.

I'm just trying to figure out why we blame Trump.

Chad Peace is managing editor of the San Diego-based news website Independent Voter Network.

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