Most Canadians watching the U.S. presidential race were astonished to see Donald Trump emerge as serious contender for high office, let alone become the presumptive Republican nominee.
For months, pundits explained Trump could not win the nomination. His candidacy would be laughed off, thanks to outrageous promises to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S., or build a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border -- and make Mexico pay for it.
Trump's campaign would collapse in contradictory statements over being for right-to-life and supporting abortion; wanting a stronger military and opposing foreign entanglements; supporting single-payer health care and wanting a market-based replacement for Obamacare; calling climate change a hoax and then finding there was something to it.
As knowledge of Trump's bankruptcies and multiple business failures (Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump Meat, etc.) spread, his credibility as a leader would shatter, leaving him with nothing to do but fight lawsuits, adding to the estimated 169 federal court lawsuits he has been named in.
The reality is that Trump is an authentic American personality. His patriotism generates wide appeal, and the concerns he raises resonate with voters. Moreover, his campaign draws on themes developed by a leading American nationalist intellectual, the late Samuel Huntington, who in major works published late in his career identified the Latino factor in the U.S. and the spread of Islam as major challenges the U.S. had to face.
Trump has an outsized presence. He is an American loudmouth, not an unfamiliar character in U.S. popular culture, often generating laughs in a stand-up routine based on outrageous exaggeration.
For 14 years, Trump played himself to millions of U.S. television viewers as host and star in the reality show The Apprentice, where his bombast "you're fired" became his signature line.
Ronald Reagan became a familiar figure to Americans through his movie career and as a TV pitchman for corporate America. Popularity built on the big and small screen launched a successful political career ending in the White House. In much the same way, widely popular reality television has prepared American public opinion to accept Trump as a political figure.
The Trump campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" is a simple appeal to patriotic national feelings.
Trump lines up his targets. Bad trade deals where American interests get trampled. Corporations buying politicians through donations. Incompetent politicians hiding in Washington from the people that elect them, while U.S. jobs get exported abroad.
In 2011, Trump questioned U.S. President Obama's birthplace, his legitimacy as an American. With "birther" support secured, Trump moved on to attack illegal immigrants and fan accusations that Muslims were terrorists.
Race is never far from the American consciousness and Trump plays the race card.
By the time he announced his candidacy, Trump had another audience to add to his base: white male workers who had lost their jobs, or their houses, or their families, or all three, were tuning him in and buying his message.
Trump offered scapegoats to alienated Americans with good reasons to blame others for their declining prospects.
Trump paid for his own campaign so he could announce he was beholden to no one. His unpredictable performances, his attacks on opponents, his comic nicknames for adversaries, all rang the entertainment meter that drives U.S. media.
Trump got unprecedented free coverage denied to other candidates. The candidate with the most name recognition got the most airtime.
In a book published in 2004, Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that Latino immigration was endangering the American way of life. Trump has campaigned on a shrill version of the same sinister idea.
A decade earlier, Huntington had identified Islam as the main threat to Western civilization and by extension, American supremacy in the world.
Trump builds on the war on terrorism adopted by the West after 2001, and extends it to all Muslims.
The neoconservatives are livid with Trump. His cavalier approach to foreign policy threatens their carefully constructed narratives. Trump admires Putin while neocons such as Robert Kagan accuse him of fascism and scream about inattention to the Russian threat, the main remaining excuse for wasting trillions of dollars on military preparedness.
New Yorker liberals are frustrated because Americans preparing to vote for him ignore the danger that the dictatorial Trump poses to constitutional government.
Canadian admirers of all things American cannot bring themselves to believe that Trump the boorish clown could become the next U.S. president.
After trailing her by more than 10 points, Trump now stands virtually tied with Hillary Clinton in polls predicting the outcome of the November 18 election.