At the time I am writing this, Donald Trump’s last post on Facebook has 145,257 likes and 6,434 shares. His most popular post of the week has a shocking 186,007 likes and 32,405 shares.
That’s way higher social media engagement than any other Republican presidential candidate.
For some more perspective, President Barack Obama’s most popular post of the week has 55,742 likes and 3,448 shares.
Hillary Clinton’s most popular post has 62,925 likes (and whopping 48,611 shares), but that’s an anomaly and is about six-to-seven times higher than her average post. The subject of that post? Donald Trump.
No other notable politician is even in the same universe. And Hillary’s viral post was a video, which often inherently gain more traction on a platform like Facebook. Meanwhile, it seems like every time Trump updates his status he goes viral.
Generally speaking, the reach of Donald Trump’s Facebook posts is more on pace with that of Justin Bieber than with any other politician.
And yes, he is also a celebrity… a very famous name with a large media presence. But the popularity of his self-aggrandizing and bombastic social media posts only buttress the validity of his soaring poll numbers in the Republican primary – he’s now at the very top of the field in several polls.
What’s behind The Donald’s freakish popularity? It’s that, like Fox News, he displays a savant-like expertise in being able to push the buttons that tap into the simmering bigotries, frustrations, and insecurities of the right-wing base.
Donald Trump, perhaps more than any other candidate, represents the Frankenstein’s monster created by Republicans’ nurturing of the radical Tea Party movement. Right-wing politicians, pundits, and activist leaders are constantly giving the base some “other” to fear … a target for all their frustrations who doesn’t deserve the same rights as them, who is tearing America down from within -- whether it’s the poor, racial minorities, LGBT people, women who demand equality, or, in the case of Trump’s most infamous rhetorical attacks, immigrants.
There’s always someone to hate and someone’s “ass to kick.”
Trump, perhaps as a byproduct of his time spent in the world of reality television, also seems uniquely willing among Republicans to make a caricature of himself – in some cases, literally, like when he posted his face superimposed onto a poster of Uncle Sam.
Or when he posted:
“Can you envision Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton negotiating with 'El Chapo', the Mexican drug lord who escaped from prison? Trump, however, on the other hand would kick his ass!”
“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”
Or, taking the “Birther” conspiracy theory to new heights, tweeted:
“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived”
But this is not some silly carnival act, to be ridiculed and brushed aside. We’ve seen the Far Right’s eagerness to embrace cartoonish and outlandish extremism before, with Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and others.
As PFAW president Michael Keegan recently wrote:
“Even if, as many in the media insist, Trump’s popularity as a candidate is just a flash in the pan, what it represents is something very real that is not going away. And whoever the GOP candidate ends up being will be tasked with the unenviable job of trying to keep a lid on all of the Right’s unbridled hate.”
Not only does Trump’s moment in the sun tell a story that can’t be ignored about the right-wing movement and the Republican Party, but the kind of extremism that creates fertile ground for vapid demagogues of his ilk is a significant barrier to progress that we need to face head on.