It’s become a commonplace to say that Donald Trump is an unpredictable candidate—and that he’s the Republican front-runner thanks to his willingness to say pretty much anything about anyone. (Trump himself has been happy to encourage this perception.)
Upon closer examination, however, Trump’s reputation for unpredictability may be exaggerated. Because wherever he goes, and whomever he’s speaking to, Trump uses the same simple formula to make his case.
First, he talks up his own greatness, using whatever metric(s) spring to mind.
In Windham, N.H., for example, speaking approvingly about the size of the audience at the Castleton Banquet & Conference Center, Trump said he’d drawn “packed houses, wherever I go.” He said that he has “millions and millions of followers” on social media. And he said of Time magazine: “Obviously, I should have been picked as Person of the Year.”
Next, Trump mocks the losers who’ve dared to take him on.
“Bush, what is he doing?” Trump asked of his struggling rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “Think of it! The guy’s spent $69 million.”
Also mocked by Trump in Windham: Washington Post columnist George Will.
“Take away his little glasses!” Trump said, holding his hands up to his eyes to simulate little glasses. “Take away his glasses—he’s got these little tiny spectacles. Take away those glasses, and he looks like a not-intelligent person.”
Then, finally, Trump tells the crowd that when he’s in charge, America will go from being a loser to being a winner—just like him.
“They attacked me, and they all went down,” Trump said of losers like Bush, Lindsey Graham , and Macy’s. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had that with our country? Where somebody attacks us and they go down?” The crowd whooped its approval.
That, in essence, is Trumpism—a simple cocktail of equal parts ego, anger, and hope.
The surprises come on the margins, when Trump slots a new person or phrase into his formula. In Windham, that meant jabs at Bill Clinton (“Bill joined Hillary—so far it’s not working out so well”); Ted Cruz (“Is he a natural-born citizen?”); and Bernie Sanders (“I want to run against Bernie. That’s my dream”).
But Trump saved his sharpest barbs for New Hampshire Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid, who’s endorsed Chris Christie and likened Trump to dopey Back to the Future bully Biff.
“You have a guy who’s out of control, and thinks he’s hot stuff,” Trump said of McQuaid. “He’s not hot stuff.”
There was, however, one unexpected twist at Trump's Windham event. When Trump finished speaking, reporters weren’t allowed to leave their holding pen and exit the building until the candidate had finished greeting voters in a separate area. The journalists confined were visibly frustrated.
In an email, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told WGBH News the move was inadvertent. Journalists “are welcome to depart the venue at the conclusion of Mr. Trump’s speech,” Hicks wrote, adding that a “miscommunication” may have been responsible.