Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump
Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump Image Credit: AFP

Washington: He was impeached twice. He has been found liable in fraud and sexual abuse lawsuits. He is charged with 91 felonies, accused of recklessly endangering national security, and of conspiring to defraud the United States.

If that sounds like the kind of resume unbecoming of a leader of the free world, millions of Americans disagree - and want nothing more than to see Donald Trump back at the helm.

The 77-year-old populist, property magnate, grandfather, golfer, media star, actor, best-selling author and criminal suspect is trouncing the competition in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

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His numbers in a rematch with President Joe Biden, too, have been causing White House officials to break out in hives, with just one year to go until the country goes to the polls.

"Donald Trump's election in 2016 was a tectonic shift in American politics that cannot be quickly be forgotten by his admirers or detractors," said political historian Mike Cullinane, of Dickinson State University in North Dakota.

"He has given a contemporary voice to an enduring racism, sexism, xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment that has been a part of the United States since its inception."

Trump critics hoped the fever might break in the aftermath of the 2021 insurrection, when he was impeached for inciting a deadly riot by a mob that ransacked the Capitol building in Washington.

But his average favorability rating is three points higher now than it was on the eve of the violence.

Secret sauce

His influence in the recent contest for House of Representatives speaker - deploying his acolytes to bury a leading candidate deemed insufficiently loyal - demonstrated that elected Republicans still fear him.

Trump's secret sauce, his detractors acknowledge, has always been the perception that while he may be no saint, he is authentic, beholden to no one and a warrior for his people.

The former president has spent the best part of a decade assuring Americans left behind by the modern economy that their grievances matter, and that he - uniquely - is willing to stand up for them against a hostile, corrupt corporate and media class.

According to marketing expert Zachary Weiner, Trump's supporters respect the abrasive, untrammeled rhetorical style of a "guy who will say what he is thinking."

Meanwhile the constellation of indictments, gag orders and negative newspaper articles merely reinforces the "witch hunt" narrative he serves up daily for his supporters.

"He taps into cultural, economic and social anxieties that they feel are otherwise overlooked," said Weiner, who lectures and owns a Chicago-based marketing agency.

"That is a bond that isn't easily broken by legal challenges or mainstream criticism."


Trump supporters interviewed by AFP at his regular rallies and other public engagements typically brush off the scandals, either denying wrongdoing on his behalf or dismissing the accusations as unimportant.

Evangelical Christians in particular see his role in the Supreme Court's gutting of abortion rights as proof positive that he has fought for them like no other politician and deserves loyalty in return.

"It's not about, 'Do we match? Are we the same people?' It's about, 'Will you put my values into policy?'" Suzzanne Monk, 50, told AFP at a religious conference in Washington in the summer. "And that's why these folks all love Donald Trump."

For Democrats frustrated by Trump's bullet-proof support, left-leaning election strategist Zee Cohen-Sanchez has some advice: look past the true believers - the rally-goers who cry "witch hunt!" - to the waverers and the independents who swept him to power in 2016 and returned, less enthused, four years later.

"If Democrats want to break through to new voters, these are groups that need to be considered," said Cohen-Sanchez, executive director of Nevada-based Sole Strategies.

"It's definitely not a waste of money to work on persuading these groups, but the messaging needs changing and can't be Biden's current strategy of 'I'm not Trump.'"