It’s easy to roll your eyes at this now-familiar Trump self-puffery. Biggest crowds in history! More than 100,000 requests for an arena that only seats 20,000! Enthusiasm beyond belief! The fake news won’t report on it!
But here’s the thing: The spectacle happening in Orlando in advance of tonight’s big speech is yet more clear evidence that Trump is more than a politician or even a President — he is a pop-culture phenomenon the likes of which none of the 23 Democratic candidates running can match.
It’s important to remember that prior to being President — or even running for president — Trump had woven himself into the cultural fabric. Whether through cameos in movies (“Little Rascals,” “Home Alone 2”), his reality TV shows or a steady stream of personal life rumors in gossip rags, Trump was someone known across the country — and really, across the world. And for a not-small subset of people Trump represented aspirational wealth — a man who had succeeded so much that he could do and say whatever he wanted, all while living in the lap of luxury.
At the start of his presidential bid, many of the people who turned out were there to see a celebrity, not a politician. They figured that Trump probably had no chance but still wanted to see if he would sign their dog-eared copy of the “The Art of the Deal.” Trump won many of them over with his performative nature and his passel of promises about how he could fix everything.
While many of those promises haven’t yet come true — the wall along the southern border is not completed, for example — lots of Americans who still support Trump don’t really care because they voted for a celebrity and that’s exactly what they got. They don’t hold him to the same standards they hold other politicians because they don’t see him as a politician; they see him as a rock star.
A majority of the country does not hold that view. Trump’s job approval rating has never been above 50% since his presidency began — the only chief executive in modern political history to claim that ignominious mantle. And no matter how Trump is viewed by his supporters, it doesn’t change the fact that he is viewed with equal but opposite dislike by much of the Democratic base.
In fact, that reality may be Democrats’ best turnout tool come 2020. They may not have a candidate who can match Trump’s celebrity, but Trump’s celebrity could be the thing that drives Democratic voters to the polls — to cast a ballot against him and all they believe he represents.