David Brooks is trying to figure out the secret of Donald Trump's high poll ratings. I think Brooks makes some plausible points, but I think there is something else there too. Donald Trump has become the Howard Dean of the 2012 presidential campaign. There is a certain minority fraction of center-right leaning Americans for whom expressions of loathing and suspicion of Obama are the most salient issues. They might rationalize it as being willing to "fight" or "talk straight", but it is mostly the satisfaction of hearing Obama insulted and diminished (he isn't an American citizen, he didn't write his first book, etc.) in the most extravagant terms.
This happens across the ideological divide. Howard Dean got to be the Democratic presidential frontrunner almost eight years ago. It wasn't just that Dean was against the Iraq War from the beginning. Dennis Kucinich's credentials were at least as good. Those of us who met Howard Dean supporters also know that Dean's record as a budget balancing, NRA-friendly governor didn't account for much of his support. Dean's strength was that he spoke of President Bush will sincere contempt and his loathing of Bush was so intense that it seemed to ripple under his skin. This approach always had its limits and Dean wasn't going to be the Democratic nominee even if Dean's underlying emotional instability hadn't erupted on the night of the Iowa Caucuses.
Just like Dean tapped into a vein of Bush loathing and hatred, Trump has now tapped into a similar vein of Obama hatred and suspicion on the right. In one sense, Trump has already won the Obama hatred primary among prospective Republican presidential candidates. The paradox is that Trump's rise to prominence in the Obama hatred primary is related the underlying absurdity of his candidacy. He can outbid all the other Republican candidates in appealing to the Obama-hatred-above-all demographic because he isn't worried about losing elections or becoming a national joke.
Howard Dean was actually running to be elected President. This put a limit on the kinds of things he could say about Bush - even if he was personally inclined to say them. Newt Gingrich is no more likely to be elected President than Trump, but he seems to have some interest in maintaining a degree of respectability. Gingrich tried to make a play for the Obama hating demographic, but in a way that didn't cut Gingrich off from the rest of the center-right. He talked about Obama's "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview (not really American you see.) Trump does Gingrich two better. Not only does Trump question Obama's very citizenship, but also asserts that Obama's first book was written by a terrorist. Gingrich probably thought he was being quite clever by restricting himself to calling Obama foreign in mentality. How timid and pale Gingrich seems compared to Trump.
Trump is going for attention and that creates a different dynamic. The Trump dynamic is closer to that of a pro wrestling heel than a candidate for office. It is okay if he stirs up more opposition than support - as long as the opposition and support are both passionate. This allows Trump to adopt the birther issue and the Ayers issue. There is a market for such things (though not one big enough to win the Republican nomination), and there is vast publicity in the media pushback. Either way people are talking about him, and that is the point. Since he isn't trying to win a presidential election, he can't lose.