He is preaching to the converted. He is lashing out at anyone who is not completely loyal. He is detaching himself from and delegitimizing the institutions of American political life. And he is proclaiming conspiracies everywhere – in polls (rigged), in debate moderators (biased) and in the election itself (soon to be stolen).

In the presidential campaign’s home stretch, Donald Trump is fully inhabiting his own echo chamber. The Republican nominee has turned inward, increasingly isolated from the country’s mainstream and leaders of his own party, and determined to rouse his most fervent supporters with dire warnings that their populist movement could fall prey to dark and collusive forces.

A turbulent few weeks punctuated by allegations of sexual harassment have left Trump trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in nearly every swing state. Trump’s gamble is that igniting his army of working-class whites could do more to put him in contention than any sort of broad, tempered appeal to undecided voters.

The execution has been volatile. Since announcing last week that “the shackles have been taken off me,” Trump, bolstered by allies on talk radio and social media, has been creating an alternate reality – one full of innuendo about Clinton, tirades about the unfair news media and prophecies of Trump’s imminent triumph.

Many Republicans see the Trump campaign’s latest incarnation as a mirror into the psyche of their party’s restive base: pulsating with grievance and vitriol, unmoored from conservative orthodoxy and deeply suspicious of the fast-changing culture and the consequences of globalization.

“I think Trump is right: the shackles have been released, but they were the shackles of reality,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist. “If he’s going to go off with these merry alt-right pranksters and only talk to people who vote Republican no matter what, he’s going to lose the election substantially.”


For legions of Trump fans, his approach is not only a relished escalation of his combativeness but also a chance to reshape the Republican Party in Trump’s hard-line nationalist image.


“This is a hostile takeover,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R, a Trump ally. “They believe the media is their mortal enemy and the country is in mortal danger, that Hillary Clinton would end America as we know it.”

Trump’s strategy was crystallized by his defiant speech Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida, in which he brazenly argued that the women who have accused him of unwanted kissing and groping were complicit in a global conspiracy of political, business and media elites to slander him and extinguish his outsider campaign.

“It’s a global power structure,” he said. Trump went on to describe himself as a populist martyr – “I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you” – and posited: “This is not simply another four-year election. This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.”

Trump’s echo chamber is not altogether new. It is a more nationalistic and racially charged strain of the one most elected Republicans have inhabited for two decades.


But in recent years this echo chamber has evolved from being an arm of the party into an unpredictable and sprawling orbit of the American right.

Starting with the tea party movement in the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency, fury over what activists saw as a capitulating Republican establishment created a vacuum for someone or something to take hold.

Enter Trump, who promised total disruption and whose movement has been fueled not only by talk radio and television personalities, but by a galaxy of blogs, websites and super PACs that saw money to be made and influence to be gained.

Trump may not be a fleeting example of how an outsider will use this alt-right ecosystem to build a base of national support from outside of the Republican mainstream. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a Trump supporter and adviser, said he saw firsthand how these forces could propel a political outsider to the top tier of the presidential nominating contest.

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