How Trump did it

How Trump did it
© Greg Nash

When Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE entered the presidential race, he was widely mocked as a billionaire businessman putting on a vanity act.

Political pundits thought he was a joke and saw his entry into politics as a new episode in a reality television show. 


A little more than 11 months later, Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, on the verge of securing a title few thought he had any chance of winning.

Here’s how he got there.

June 16, 2015: Trump enters the race

Trump’s speech announcing his candidacy from Trump Tower in New York didn’t sound like an address by a presidential contender.

The speech was disjointed and improvised, and some of its contents seemed outlandish, particularly his comment that Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems with us. They are bringing drugs. They’re bringing  crime. They’re rapists.” 

Trump declared that he’d crush the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and negotiate better trade deals. Most famously, he said he would build a wall along the U.S-Mexico border and “make America great again.”

His remarks calling illegal immigrants rapists and criminals failed to register with the national media for several days. When they did, they provoked a backlash that had companies rushing to sever their business ties with the real estate mogul.

They won him the enmity of pro-immigration activists and leaders of Mexico, who decried his claims as absurd, insulting and dangerous.

Yet the tough lines on trade and immigration resonated with a segment of the GOP base, as well as some independents.

Much of the political world missed that, and June 16 became the first of many times that analysts wrongly predicted Trump’s demise.

July 20, 2015: Trump takes the lead for the first time

When Trump launched his campaign, Jeb Bush was the presumptive front-runner and enjoying his best stretch in the race.

The former Florida governor had raised tens of millions of dollars and pulled away from the crowded field of candidates in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

The son of one president and the brother of another, he was the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination among the political elite.

A little more than a month after Trump’s entry, Bush was no longer in first place. And he never would be again.

July 23, 2015: Flirting with a third-party run

By late July, Republicans were already worried about how the unpredictable Trump might affect the party at large.

But they expressed more worries about what Trump might do if he lost the nomination than if he won it.

In an exclusive interview with The Hill at the time, Trump threatened to leave the GOP and launch a third-party bid for the White House if the Republican National Committee (RNC) didn’t treat him to his liking.

The threat took on added importance as Trump’s strength grew, eventually leading RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to travel to New York to obtain Trump’s signature on a pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee.

Trump would later return to the third-party threat as a means of maintaining leverage over party leaders, many of whom are still trying to wrap their minds around his potential nomination.

Aug. 20, 2015: ‘Low energy’

Trump first laid into Bush with an insult that came to define the former Florida governor’s ill-fated presidential run at an August town hall in New Hampshire.

As Bush competed for attention with his own event in the state, the billionaire businessman said Bush’s problem was that he was “low energy.”

To Bush’s dismay, the insult stuck despite his campaign’s frantic attempts to fight back.

Trump took the nickname on the late-night circuit, the debate stage and to every rally, repeating it endlessly. 

It was the first instance of Trump using his lethal marketing prowess to brand a rival as a loser.

He has since dispatched of “Little”
Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE and hopes to do the same with “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

He more recently dubbed Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE, likely his next chief foe, “Crooked Hillary.”

Dec. 8, 2015: The Muslim ban

In the wake of high-profile terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris, Trump created a racial firestorm by proposing a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

Trump floated the idea at a rally less than a day after President Obama gave a sober address from the Oval Office pleading with Americans not to turn the war on terror into a war against Islam.

Once again, many Republicans blasted Trump for the proposal, but the controversy undoubtedly helped Trump — as did fears about terrorism.

Polls showed that a strong majority of Republicans, and about half of all Americans, supported his call for the ban.

Feb. 9: New Hampshire

Trump dominated national polls leading up to the 2016 contests, but then he lost to Cruz in the first vote of year, the Iowa caucuses.

That created a must-win situation for Trump in New Hampshire.

Trump put any questions about whether he’d be a serious contender to bed with his results there, winning 35 percent of the vote in a field of eight and beating the next closest contender, John Kasich, by 55,000 votes and a 20-point margin.

Feb. 20: South Carolina

South Carolina’s primary was supposed to be the contest that restored order to the GOP race.

Conventional wisdom said the heavy military presence in South Carolina would support a steady and experienced candidate like Bush.

Instead, Trump dominated again, posting double-digit victories over Cruz and Rubio, who were left bickering over who had won a moral victory.

Bush dropped out of the race afterward, leaving Cruz, Rubio and Kasich as Trump’s toughest rivals. 

March 1: Super Tuesday

The Super Tuesday contests were supposed to test Trump’s ground game.

Instead, Trump’s big victories showed that his strategy of focusing on earned media could be successful, and he won seven out of 11 states voting that day.

Trump’s victories spanned from the Deep South to the Northeast, highlighting his ability to win across the country.

Rubio took just a single victory, in Minnesota, while the wins over Cruz in the South proved a then-overlooked omen of things to come. Cruz was leaning on a strategy to do well in the South, but Trump beat him handily in many of those states.

April 5: The rough patch

Trump disposed of Rubio with a big win on March 15 in Florida’s primary but followed that with his toughest period on the campaign trail.

Trump had to cancel one rally in Chicago after fights erupted between protesters and supporters, raising questions about whether he was to blame for encouraging violence at his events.

He also stumbled on the issue of abortion, taking several different positions on the issue and speculating about women being punished for seeking them out.

Establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives rallied behind Cruz in the Wisconsin primary, and he took nearly all 42 of the delegates up for grabs there.

It looked like a turning point that would send the GOP race to a contested Republican National Convention in July.

April 19: New York; May 3: Indiana

Trump reclaimed control of the race in his home state of New York, where Cruz’s insults about “New York values” apparently did him in.

Some thought that the more centrist GOP style of Kasich might have gone over well in the Empire State.

Instead, Trump dominated the primary and ended up winning 60 percent of the vote and nearly all of the state’s 95 delegates.

That momentum carried over into more Northeast contests the next week, where Trump swept all five states voting on April 26 .

On Tuesday, he easily defeated Cruz in Indiana in a state the Texas senator had to win.