Der Spiegel, one of Europe’s most influential news magazines, called Donald Trump “the leader of a new, hate-filled authoritarian movement.” At The Week, Ryan Cooper wrote that “the increasingly unsettling success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign [raises the question]: Does America have a fascism problem?” And University of Michigan historian Juan Cole says Trump’s rise in the GOP primary contest “is an indictment of, and a profound danger to the American republic.”
Trump’s ascension to the top of the GOP field has certainly revealed a dark current in American politics. His campaign has been endorsed by far-right figures like David Duke and Jean-Marie Le Pen, and a white supremacist Super PAC is sending out robocalls urging Republicans to vote for Trump over “a Cuban” in order to halt the “gradual genocide against the white race.” Polls show that Trump’s voters tend to hold demonstrably more racial resentment than other Republicans do. Last week, Sasha Abramsky interviewed several Trump supporters for The Nation, and concluded that his campaign represents “the reductio ad absurdum end-point of the [Republican] party’s endless pandering to Tea Party bigots, to birthers, to gun-toting militias, and other zealots.”
But it’s important to keep the Trump phenomenon in perspective. While he enters Super Tuesday with a commanding lead in the delegate count—with 82 pledged delegates, he has more than twice the total of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined—only 5.9 percent of registered voters in the first four states have cast their ballots for the reality-TV star.
That’s the nature of low-turnout primary campaigns. If you follow the horse-race coverage, it’s easy to think a candidate enjoys broad popular support, when in fact he or she is only backed by a tiny slice of the public. Trump’s win in the Nevada Caucuses may have dominated the news for a couple of days, but he did it with the support of just 2.3 percent of eligible voters in the Silver State.
More people watched the season one finale of The Apprentice than participated in the 2012 Republican primaries, when Mitt Romney won the nomination with the backing of 4.6 percent of eligible voters. Republican turnout appears to be higher this year, but Romney won the support of 53 percent of his party in 2012, and so far Trump has only won 33 percent of primary voters in the early states. If the field remains fractured over the next two months, The Donald could end up winning the nomination with around 4 percent of all eligible voters.