The presidential primary season is still months away from the opening bell, but it’s promising to be just as entertaining as ever, at least on the Republican side of the fence. Our system of producing a candidate via a brutal preliminary scrum between contenders from the same party has evolved into a unique branding laboratory. Various candidates are forced to attack each other, while proclaiming to be the consummate person to represent the mother brand of the political party itself. The eventual winner can only hope that he or she is not mortally wounded for the general election by all the sniping, backstabbing and innuendo of the primary process.
Which brings us to one incredible candidate, Donald Trump. Journalists, comedians and branding columnists thank their lucky stars for the steady flow of remarkable content that originates somewhere inside his enormous ego and gushes, unfiltered, from his mouth directly into our TVs, smartphones, and laptops. Mr. Trump says some of the darnedest things, including many that would seem to be political suicide for any other candidate. His competition has to be hoping that he will go away soon, particularly after offending, let’s see, all Mexicans and many Hispanics, in general, and all prisoners of war and many veterans, in general.
But, instead, his popularity seems to have increased in early polling, which shows him in the lead in some conservative states and when the pollsters ask voters to choose from the full list of candidates currently running for the GOP nod. Trump has brand recognition and has become a political nuisance of stupendous proportion within his own party, a wildcat brand whose bombast has him pinballing into the other 30 men and two women who are running, knocking them all off their game as they are asked to react to the latest Trumpism du jour.
The other GOP candidates tried ignoring him when he described Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, and criminals in his announcement speech in June. They were more vocal in their reaction to his comments about John McCain not being a true war hero because he was captured. Trump has us all wondering what he will say next to stir controversy and somehow sustain his popularity in the polls.
Amid all this bombast, however, the republican brand itself is taking heavy criticism. Republican strategists have been saying for years that the Hispanic vote will be a key to winning presidential elections. Yet, this incredible anti-Hispanic rhetoric is emanating from one of their own. Like a drunk teenager at a family reunion, Trump is continually embarrassing his own political party to such an extent that a Republican congressman from Miami, Carlos Curbelo, suggested in a radio interview that it was a commie plot, I mean, that Trump was actually a clever Democratic operative. “There are too many important national, local international topics to waste time talking about a person who, I repeat, in my judgment is irrelevant—and who quite possibly is a phantom candidate recruited by the left to create this entire political circus,” he said.
Mr. Curbelo can explain what he meant by “local international topics” later, but he is probably right that Trump will eventually become irrelevant. But, right now, as long as he can point to his strength in the polls, Trump is highly relevant and impossible to avoid. The Donald’s real trump card is not his mouth, it’s his money, for two reasons. One, he has enough of it to self-fund his campaign, thus saving an enormous amount of time pandering to wealthy donors. And two, he delights in pointing out that many of the candidates that he is running against have sought him out for cash donations in the past.
Honestly, I don’t believe that The Donald is a legitimate candidate any more than his elaborate comb-over is fooling anyone. While Trump may seem indestructible right now, this election will most likely come down to two stout legacy brands battling it out for the Oval Office—Hillary vs. Jeb!. For now, though, Trump’s far-right rhetoric is playing well to parts of the Republican voter base, as the party itself looks on with apprehension about the permanence of any damage he is causing to the GOP brand.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.