How the alt-right became our candidate

Playing with fire: How Trump’s push against mail-in voting is likely to impact GOP turnout in 2020

In the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting, there’s been a flurry of opinion pieces, letters and op-eds that try to make sense of what happened, offer solutions for gun safety, and generally push back against the idea that the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald Trump, would have been elected to the White House if not for the tragedy that occurred at an Orlando night club.

By way of a review of those pieces, here’s an attempt to distil the lessons that political scientists have been sharing over the past several weeks.

We shouldn’t try to figure out how Donald Trump won the GOP nomination without also talking about how the country really works.

In this piece, we want to take a closer look at just how the Trump campaign became a model of the alt-right’s message system, and how the alt-right made its way from internet memes and anonymous online rants to its victory in the 2016 general election.

How the alt-right became our candidate

In 2016, Donald Trump won the Republican Party’s presidential primary by a wide margin, but was defeated in the general election by Hillary Clinton, who took nearly 63 percent of the vote.

The reason Trump won was not because he was the party’s nominee, it was because he was the most popular candidate among Republicans in the primaries. A Pew Research study found that Trump had the most favorable rating of any Republican politician (including the president) from Pew Research (see figure 1).

This popularity was achieved through the online alt-right echo chamber, a network of websites, blogs, videos, podcasts, forums and other websites with a message system like no previous candidate for president had ever been able to assemble (see figure 2).

This message system allowed Trump to reach many millions of people, many of whom had never previously engaged in political discussions, through memes, internet rants and a “memorization” of the news, which were combined with his speeches, rallies and interviews on television to make his candidacy an online phenomenon.

For the alt-right, this is how all campaigns are born

The alt-right is a collection of groups that share a wide variety of attitudes and ideals. What unites them is a desire to overthrow Western culture and its values. They define themselves as white nationalists, often using language that is not quite the same as the alt-right’s.

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