Five ways Trump has changed the 2016 Republican presidential race

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up. Image copyright Getty Images

Donald Trump isn't going away. As the recent Time magazine cover succinctly says: "Deal with it."

That's proving easier said than done for many Republican officials, political commentators and presidential hopefuls, however. Mr Trump has gone from joke to serious player in just a few months, thanks to his seemingly bulletproof level of Republican primary voter support and a billion-dollar personal bank account to fuel his campaign, and he seems unwilling to play by standard political rules.

Here are just a few ways the Trump phenomenon has turned the Republican presidential nomination race on its head.


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Image caption Donald Trump's economic message is resonating with Republican voters

1. He's advancing a populist economic message

Tax-cutting and deregulation have been key parts of Republican orthodoxy since the days of Ronald Reagan. Mr Trump isn't reading from that particular hymnal, however. Instead he preaches a populist salvation for the economically disaffected.

Poll after poll shows economic security is the most important issue for Republican voters, and Mr Trump's entire message - his anti-illegal-immigration stance, his condemnation of Chinese and Mexican trade practices, his calls for taxation of Wall Street hedge fund managers and his constant touting of his resume as a successful businessman and "job-creator" - is built around this.

Earlier this year, as candidates made their appearances at various Republican forums across the country, it seemed the biggest applause lines among conservative audiences were warnings of the growing threat of the so-called Islamic State and condemnations of President Barack Obama's foreign policy. This would be a foreign policy election, wags opined, and the candidates all sharpened their rhetoric accordingly.

Then Mr Trump showed up, shrugged off questions of international affairs in favour of his jobs message and now sits at the top of the polls.


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Image caption Donald Trump says no one would be talking about immigration if it weren't for him

2. He's pumped up the volume on immigration

Donald Trump has singlehandedly raised the decibel level of the Republican campaign. His seeming willingness to say whatever crosses his mind, no matter how impolitic, has cast him as an "authentic" contrast to the more measured - perhaps timid - actions of his competitors.

Nowhere is this more clear than the current state of conversation on the issue of immigration, where the New York billionaire has condemned illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals and job-stealers.

Some candidates seem to have concluded that the way to beat Mr Trump is to be just as over-the-top as the Donald himself.

How else to explain Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker calling for consideration of a Canadian border wall? Or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suggesting immigrants be tracked "like FedEx packages"? Or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who married a Mexican national, condemning "anchor babies" used to obtain US citizenship? Or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the child of Indian immigrants, repeatedly saying "immigration without assimilation is invasion"?

The year before the presidential primaries begin is supposed to be the time when candidates play the long game - building name recognition, avoiding missteps, establishing the rationale for their presidential aspirations and laying the groundwork for future success. Mr Trump's headline-dominating juggernaut is throwing all of that to the wind.


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Image caption Scott Walker is looking up at Donald Trump in recent Iowa polls

3. He's stepped over Walker

If there is one of Trump opponents who most reflects the adverse effect the New Yorker has had on the field, it's Mr Walker.

Up until now, the governor's appeal has been as the mild-mannered "aggressively normal" Mid-westerner who successfully advanced a solidly conservative agenda in left-leaning Wisconsin. He's been billed as the establishment-endorsed man who also boasts crossover grassroots appeal.

When compared to Mr Trump, however, "aggressively normal" seems decidedly milquetoast. For months Mr Walker was the man to beat in first-in-the-nation voting Iowa, but recent polls have him dropping to the middle of the pack, as Mr Trump and other unorthodox candidates like retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have flourished.

That's left Walker supporters and advisors calling for a campaign reboot, while the candidate tries to grab headlines by calling for the cancellation of an upcoming US visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and seemingly endorsing, then backing away from, ending the practice of automatically granting citizenship to all children born on US soil.

"What happened to Scott Walker?" asks the headline of a recent Washington Post piece - in the type of soul-searching article that often greets campaigns on a downward trajectory.

Donald Trump. That's what happened.


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Image caption Donald Trump is making his opponents look archaic

4. He's weaponised social media

Last week Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote that Mr Trump is disrupting conventional political campaigns the way General William T Sherman's US Civil War strategies revolutionised the military.

Sherman cut through the South with a speed and agility that left his opponents reeling. Mr Trump, thanks to his deft use of social media-based attacks on multiple, often seemingly contradictory fronts, is doing the same to his political opponents.

"You need to be able to not just act fast but act fast again and again to control the tempo and pace of the news conversation so you're on to the next punch or the one after that before your adversaries have even responded," he writes. "You also need to be experienced in the tabloid news culture and be totally in tune with your target audience. All of these combined are allowing Trump to act faster and thus more totally dominate the progression of the news conversation than any candidate has ever."

Up until now, social media has essentially been a public relations arm of a political campaign, subject to the same careful vetting and control that goes into a candidate's public speeches and position statements.

Mr Trump is operating more like a pop culture celebrity, however, picking fights and tossing casual insults at furious pace. He's a spider monkey in a fight with tortoises.

And, at least so far, it's working for him.


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Image caption Donald Trump could be ushering in a new Republican Party - or destroying it

5. He's fomenting a Republican civil war

Mr Trump's rise is exposing the fault lines within the Republican Party between rank-and-file conservatives and the party's governing elite.

Rick Wilson, a long-time Republican political strategist, was one of the first to launch an anti-Trump salvo, with an article in Politico urging the candidate's supporters to come to their senses.

"The circus is almost over," he wrote. "My advice to Trump fans? Don't be the last clown out of the tent."

As Mr Trump support continued to endure despite much-touted "game-changing" gaffes, the barbs directed his way turned sharper still.

"Every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency," wrote establishment scion George Will of the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, grassroots conservative commentators like Breitbart's John Nolte relentlessly hammer the party "smart set" for what they see as its denigration of loyal voters who support Mr Trump.

"Listen, I'm no highly-paid, inside-inside strategist, but maybe - just maybe - instead of dismissing, marginalising, attacking, and attempting to disenfranchise Trump's supporters, the GOP could try to figure out what his appeal is and make their own appeal to those voters?" he writes.

The level of debate has descended from there, ending in an obscenity-laden Twitter war of words between Nolte, Wilson and several other conservative commentators.

All of this has some on the right wondering if the ground within their party is shifting.

"Could it be that the conservative movement is no longer driven by a coalition of fiscal conservatives, people of faith, and those concerned about foreign policy, but instead is driven by a coalition consisting of working class whites, blue collar populists, and anti-immigration hawks?" the Daily Caller's Matt K Lewis asks.

The thing is, such paradigm-shifting developments usually don't happen quietly or smoothly. Those in power want to stay there, while those aspiring to power are eager to claim it. The recent Trump television advert hitting Mr Bush for being soft on immigrant criminals is only the latest example.

And if it all seems acrimonious now, just wait to see what happens if Mr Trump starts winning primaries and caucuses next year.


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