When Donald Trump announced his presidential run in June, I immediately thought that it would all be a big joke and he was just trying to stay relevant. But to my surprise, The Donald has weaseled his way through nearly all the primaries and caucuses to be the last man standing for Republicans. In an attempt to figure out how Trump has made it this far in the presidential election, Bustle spoke with Emerson Spartz, an expert on viral content, who perfectly explained Trump's campaign strategy.
Spartz is the CEO of Dose.com, an online media company geared toward creating viral content for millennials and Generation Z. When he was 12, Spartz says he convinced his parents to let him drop out of school and create a website, MuggleNet, which quickly became the most popular Harry Potter site in the world.
Now at 28, Spartz became fascinated with how Trump turned anger into viral campaign success. “Trump became an especially interesting viral story because he was using viral strategies that I simply hadn’t seen other politicians use as effectively as he was able to,” Spartz says.
Spartz used his expert knowledge on why certain things go viral to explain the likely Republican nominee's campaign success.
What has made Trump so popular?
"The easiest way to explain it is how effectively he uses anger, which is a very powerful viral emotion.
"Trump has been able to harness and create anger on both sides of the aisle. Calling all Mexicans criminals and rapists, that made a lot of people angry. But at the same time, that also struck a chord with Trump supporters who might feel that way — even if they won’t admit that they feel that way — because it’s culturally taboo to express those blatantly racist feelings. They’re feeling angry about this already, Trump says something about this, and then they’re given permission to openly feel this way."
Why do Trump supporters respond so positively to Trump's anger?
"There are some types of emotions that work better than others when it comes to being viral. For example, positive is better than negative because we want to project a more positive version of ourselves.
"But anger is effective because it’s a high arousal emotion — your blood is boiling; it makes you want to take action because you want to correct injustice. It's a reactant feeling that makes us want to take action to right the wrong."
What are a few of Trump's most viral moments from the campaign so far?
1. "Calling Latino immigrants rapists and criminals."
2. "To claim that we’ll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it."
3. "When Trump and Megyn Kelly went toe-to-toe, and Trump was quoted in an interview saying the blood comment, claiming he wasn’t talking about what he was obviously talking about."
Do you think this "viral" campaign has led to more votes and support for Trump?
"I do. I think what’s really interesting is that Trump is the first politician who’s been able to say things that are so blatantly racist or what some might think is inappropriate. I think he gets away with it without losing support."
Why is he getting away with these things?
"He’s positioned himself as a non politician, so his supporters hold him to a different standard; they give him the license to say things that they would not allow other politics to say, so Trump says things that politicians just don’t say."
What are your thoughts on Trump's Cinco de Mayo taco bowl thing?
"Any politician doing the same thing would’ve lost supporters, but he’s able to say things that are incredibly offensive and not lose supporters. And that ties back again to the freedom he’s created for himself to do inappropriate things because of the identity he’s created as an outsider. Trump is more effective at establishing himself as the non politician."
In what other ways has Trump gotten away with things other candidates couldn't get away with?
"When he changed his abortion stance three times in one day, other candidates would’ve been ruined if they were exposed as not knowing the abortion issues. But because he’s not a politician he can get away with that.
"And defending his manhood. Trump's supporters don’t think, 'Wow that’s inappropriate,' they think, 'That’s a guy who’s a real person and because I hate politicians so much I actually support him more because he responded to that.'"
How has Trump mastered social media unlike other candidates?
"You can take tweets and Facebook posts, and if you took out who said them you probably couldn’t tell which politician that tweet came from.
"I think that’s what Trump is tapping into — you can instantly identify many of Trump’s posts on Facebook and Twitter. To many people, politicians sound like robots in that they say a lot of good sounding words that don’t have substance. Trump isn’t afraid to offend people; he has a very strong political brand."
So was this viral anger all a campaign strategy? Or is it just who Trump is as a person?
"Part of it is that it’s just who Trump is, and part is that he does have a best sense of what kinds of emotions he’s tapping into. I don’t think he could articulate the subtleties of using anger as a strategy, but intuitively he just understands how to persuade people — certain types of people in particular — and that’s part of why he’s been successful in his career: he’s learned how to be persuasive and how to apply that to a different kind of sale."
Do you think Trump's viral anger was a good thing for his campaign?
"It’s clearly been a good thing. He got there, he did it, he won. It remains to be seen if he can win in the general [election], but I never thought he had a chance to win the primaries, so it’s harder to doubt him now than it was a year ago."
From #MakeAmericaGreatAgain to going on Twitter rants about Megyn Kelly and building a wall, Trump has really tapped into how to make anger a positive thing. I'll be interested to see if he tones down his anger before the general election, but it's gotten him this far, so I wouldn't be surprised if he continued to spread his negative messages.