The Donald Trump phenomenon has dominated this campaign season and the search for an explanation rages on. There probably are multiple reasons for the rise of America's most famous authoritarian and understandably few that have been substantiated by research. One exception comes from the work of Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel, who
find that the relationship between racial resentment and economic peril is particularly acute among white liberals and Democratic partisans. The graph below shows that conservatives and Republicans have higher levels of racial resentment compared to liberals and Democrats. Possibly because of this, increased perception of economic peril has no significant effect on racial resentment for Republicans and conservatives. However, the results show that increased sense of economic peril substantially increases racial resentment among both liberals and Democrats. At above-average levels of economic peril, the resentment attitudes of white Democratic partisans become almost indistinguishable from those of Republicans. Additionally, the attitudes of white liberals become indistinguishable from those of ideological conservatives. This may help explain one of the most confusing parts of the Trump phenomenon: his success with moderates, independents and even some liberals.
That's worth exploring by others, some other time. But let's go back to the beginning, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy while proclaiming
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
It was game on from there, with the shape of the Republican presidential race shaped in large measure by the response of voters to Trump's anti-immigration, and later anti-refugee, message.
The less charitable of Trump critics believe his appeal has been considerably compelled by racism and/or xenophobia. The more charitable have been perplexed by the support he has received in primaries and caucuses. Much of that has to do with the candidate's swagger, boastfulness, sense of certainty, and rudeness: style.
However, the origin of Trump's supported motivated by immigration may be reflected in the video posted July 11, 2015 entitled "Illegal Aliens Protest Donald Trump in Los Angeles, Luxe Hotel, July 10, 2015." The narrator says
We are here in West Los Angeles outside the Luxe Hotel,where Donald Trump is inside. Illegal immigrant protestors who are against Donald Trump are here protesting Donald Trump's being in this hotel. So what you have, is you have people who are illegally here who are telling an American that he has to go and of corse we also have pro-Donald Trump protestors.
The first two commentors note "just because they are Mexicans protesting doesn't mean they're illegals" and "how do you know they're illegal?"
Point well taken. Nonetheless, perception- while not reality- often takes on the importance of reality. And alas, it turns out that the video maker's unsubstantiated leap to the conclusion that the protestors are illegal immigrants has some basis in reality, in general terms. Fox News reported on July 28, 2014
llegal immigrant demonstrators were protesting outside the White House on Monday – but don’t expect America’s immigration officers to intervene.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official indicated that even if the protesters end up getting arrested by D.C. police, they’d have to be serious criminals for ICE to get involved.
“Unless the individuals meet ICE’s enforcement priorities, it’s unlikely that the agency would get involved in the case,” the official told FoxNews.com.
Lack of resources very likely entered into the order (characterized as a regulatory decision) to detain only criminal offenders. However, Trump fans likely see as the sole factor the Administration's perspective, which is empathetic and conciliatory toward individuals whose flight to the USA threatens the nation's sovereignty and, many of them believe, drain resources. The story continues
Under a policy that’s been in effect for several years, ICE focuses deportation mostly on serious criminals and – in some cases -- those caught in the act of crossing the border. The agency prioritizes deportation for felons, repeat offenders, gang members and others with a serious criminal record. But the agency largely gives a pass to other undocumented residents.
This is why illegal immigrant activists can protest outside the White House without worrying too much about ICE.
Through at least the last three presidential terms (Bush for one, Obama for three), legal demonstrations including advocates for immigrants, legal immigrants, and a lesser number of illegal immigrants have been held in major cities throughout the USA. Notwithstanding the numerous American flags strategically flown by protestors, the message comes through loud and clear: individuals who are in the country illegally are openly demonstrating and even flaunting their presence. If you smoke marijuana openly outside of your downtown pharmacy, convenience store, hardware store, or barber shop, the reaction of law enforcement might not be as benign.
While Democrats have been openly supportive of the cause promoted in the demonstrations, Republicans have been unable or unwilling to prevent not only the protests, but also Executive Orders President Obama has signed offering an opportunity for children and other individuals in the country illegally to remain.
It shouldn't be surprising that once the issue of immigration/illegal immigration was brought to the fore, millions of Americans would have flocked to the candidacy of a candidate who, not having been a politician, cannot be held responsible. Donald Trump may have employed more illegal immigrants than every member of Congress and the President combined. And sure, he's in favor of granting more H-1B visas, in which highly educated Americans are shunned for jobs in favor of non-citizens who will work for less. And if Ted Cruz is right, he has funded five of the members of the "Gang of Eight."
He's a fraud, of course, but thus far that hasn't mattered, and one of the many reasons is that someone is giving voice- however insincerely- to anger over immigration. Fueling the outrage are politicians who deny that net immigration is down as well as images of Mexicans (or Mexican-Americans) advocating for illegal immigrants. President Obama is empathetic and conciliatory toward immigrants, legal and otherwise, and Republicans have been unable or unwilling to reverse national policy. Then along comes Donald Trump, pretending that he- and he alone- is willing and able to go to battle with what some people believe is an alien force threatening the nation.