I have become extremely interested lately in how leadership and the concepts of good leadership relates to politics and government. And within that framework, an interesting question has come up: What led to the rise of someone like Donald Trump? What created the void that his candidacy so perfectly fills?
The fact of the matter is, there are an exhausting number of explanations for Trump’s success. One theory that I heard lately was that the end of President Eisenhower’s term was the catalyst for a series of events that eventually led to the Tea Party revolution in 2008.
While that is an interesting thought, as are all of the other theories, the one that I wish to expand upon is the idea that poor leadership within the Republican Party created the void that Trump has now filled.
Before I get too far, let’s start off with some key concepts.
First, leaders influence culture. Secondly, remember that the leaders of something, in this case, a political party, are not exclusively the “elected” leaders such as the Speaker of the House. Even rank and file members, such as an outspoken congressman who has been successful in building a brand, can be a leader and therefore influence the culture. In fact, in many cases, ordinary people can influence culture in a more substantial way than the “official” leaders can.
Over the past years, the GOP has experienced poor leadership, which has led to a poor culture.
After the Bush administration and the Republican loss in 2008, many Republicans wanted to shake things up by starting movements such as the Tea Party. And while the Tea Party was originally an innocent and useful exercise in grassroots activism, it eventually bred some nasty things.
Compromise and working across the aisle became dirty concepts, and with that, the culture of conservative politics became muddled with characteristics that are inherently representative of bad leadership.
Because of this change in culture, two things came together that resulted in Republican officials being backed into a corner.
First, because our government cannot truly function when both sides are so polar opposite that finding common ground becomes nearly impossible, it’s hard for political leaders to do their job and get things done.
Second, because they were unable to get things done, party activists became increasingly frustrated and even unwilling to rely on their elected officials to bring about policy change.
This is where Trump’s brand comes in. He is not a traditional politician, he’s never held public office, and he’s been able to court the incredibly angry and dissatisfied faction of conservatives that are desperate to try something different.