As Trump put it
Tuesday in Sun City, South Carolina: "We are tired of being pushed around and led around by stupid people ... we need smart leadership, we need great leadership. We need to make America great again."
When politicians insult other politicians, we roll our eyes. But when a billionaire businessman does it and upends the GOP nomination process, we pay attention.
Every one of us has insulted a politician privately. Trump's just doing it in public. And Americans are cheering him on like a bunch of kids watching a schoolyard fight. Lindsey Graham is
"a total lightweight ... idiot," Rick Perry wears glasses
so "people think he's smart" and Obama's administration officials are "dopes."
He's getting reprimanded by the political establishment -- and standing ovations from many Americans.
In full disclosure, I know Trump. I've delivered keynotes for his company, spoken at the same leadership events, chatted in green rooms and interviewed him on camera. I admire him as a businessman. Politically I don't see eye to eye with him (or any GOP candidate) but I do understand why so many Americans do and why he is a serious contender.
1. He's real.
When it comes to Donald Trump, what you see is what you get. The no-holds-barred Trump who fires people on "The Apprentice" is the same Trump who is firing off insults to John McCain. He's bold, he's brash and he is unafraid. That's a huge advantage at this stage in the race.
Unlike his competitors, Donald gets to play himself. That means he gets to play by his own rules. And his rules follow a simple strategy: offense, offense, offense. You insult me, I go on the offense. You question me, I go on the offense. Meanwhile, everyone else is playing politician. And when you play politician, you play by the GOP rules, which means a lot of defense and double talk.
Americans hate a phony. Agree with him or not, Trump's "realness" can create a sense of trust. And that's playing out on the trail.
For example, some veterans who you might think would hate him for insulting McCain are actually giving him a pass. Patrick McGowan, who served in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart, a Silver Heart and a Bronze Star, sees Trump's bluntness as a plus: "I truly like how strong-minded he is," says McGowan.
"He is actually for the veterans. He was not putting the veterans down. Why do they keep harping on it? Trump will change Washington and the V.A. and we need it."
2. He doesn't care what you think
Donald Trump has nothing to lose and everything to gain, so he is swinging for the fences. Every time you or I click on a headline, or tune into news shows to hear about his latest antics, Trump wins. The business deals he lost in the wake of his insulting comments about Mexican immigrants pale in comparison to the benefit Trump receives. If he loses the nomination, he's gained something invaluable in the business world: an avalanche of media attention and brand lift.
Because he can't fail, he is not going to couch what he thinks. Donald Trump has flip-flopped more than Mitt Romney ever did (he's donated to Hillary Clinton's campaign, was pro-choice until recently and — don't forget — he was a birther, too). But it's his commanding and confident talk that people buy into: It conveys power and strength.
3. Many Americans hate Washington.
Trump's surge is happening against a plummet in Americans' confidence in Washington. Approval ratings
for Congress are still at an all-time low.
Trump offers a striking departure from "politics as usual." There has always been a disconnect between the sensibilities of the beltway in Washington and the reality of what the average American is talking about at the kitchen table. Trump the candidate is "shaking up" Washington because he's the only outsider.
And as much as the GOP may complain about his abrasive un-presidental behavior -- he is the only one creating the buzz, the clicks and tune-ins. It has been days since Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz or any other of the dozen or so GOP candidates have even been in the headlines. And they only seem to show up to trade jabs with Trump.
4. It's early.
The GOP pool is flooded with 15 career politicians who many Americans may find hardly distinguishable from one another. Whenever a new one jumps into the race promising to shake up Washington, you can almost hear the collective groan from the "fly over" states, where I grew up.
Until Trump joined in, it was looking like a Bush-Clinton run-off. But the GOP is responsible for creating this new situation because it has a base that believes the party is broken -- and this base wants to win. Even if Trump isn't their nominee, he'll certainly put the other candidates to the test.
We've got 16 months until it's time to make a real decision about who will be our next president. Right now, in the dead of summer 2015, the public has time to sit back, watch it unfold and enjoy the show. And that is what it is right now: a show -- full of soundbites, plot twists and interesting characters.
5. We want to see him in a debate.
Admit it, you secretly can't wait to see what Trump does at the first debate. And that is also part of his appeal: We can't turn away. We cannot help ourselves. It will be the most watched Republican debate in the history of politics. Because he is playing by his rules, only he knows what's coming next. And that curiosity is driving our insatiable appetite for Trump.
Don't expect him to flame out, he's in his power alley and just getting started.