Trump is playing to an audience of people who think of themselves less as Republicans and more as Americans – moderates, conservatives, and independents – who feel that the Republican Party has completely ignored their priorities and beliefs, and insulted them along the way.
It is a minority of the electorate, but it is a loud minority. Protectionism might rile up these Iowans, but its popularity is actually at historic lows. Polling indicates that only about 20-25 percent of the country favors mass deportation – but it is a 20-25 percent that has been ignored by both parties. These views have been espoused long before Obama, long before the Tea Party, by people on the right and the left. But they have been rejected by the elite, because such positions do not make for general election victories.
But Trump is not mounting a strong national message for building a general election coalition, nor does he care about the accuracy of his critique of immigration or the real ramifications of his trade policy. But he does represent a middle finger to the leadership of the Republican Party, a leadership that continues to ignore or insult the perspective of these voters, and the people are not demanding more of him than that raised digit held aloft.
And this gets at the existential threat Trump poses to the GOP elite: You can’t triangulate against a Sun Eater, or demand to hear its legislative endgame. You can only watch as it eats the sun.