Trump’s Brilliant Branding, Part 2

Donald Trump


My intent with this blog was not to repeat myself in quick succession – the world of marketing and ideas within it is far too vast for that.

But today is the day that Donald Trump may sew up the Republican presidential nomination for good.

Today the Republicans caucus in both Marco Rubio’s home state of Florida and John Kasich’s home state of Ohio.

Each of these, incidentally, are key swing states that have played major – if not decisive – roles in presidential elections within the last 20 years.

And as of this morning, frontrunner Donald Trump is projected to prevail in both.

Not only will twin victories by Trump deliver mortal blows to two of his three remaining contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, but from here on out, the states apportion delegates as winner-take-all rather than on a proportional basis.

So it’s highly likely that, barring the last-ditch efforts of a divided convention, we will awaken tomorrow to a world in which Donald Trump has an unassailable lead (and thus, a lock) for the Republican nomination.

Much more ink will be spilled in the coming weeks and months about how Trump’s surge has managed to succeed despite opposition and disbelief from the establishment, it’s worth reviewing recent events and tactics that now seem poised to deliver him victory.

Change Your Positions with Impunity

In last week’s Republican debate,  moderator Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his positon on H-1B visas (used for foreign temporary guest workers), citing the position statements from his own website on how he reforming that program was necessary to protect American workers.

On stage and on camera before millions of television viewers, Trump told Megyn Kelly he was reversing his position from what he’d said on his website and and would welcome more high-skilled workers into the U.S. workforce via such visas:

“I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in. But, and we do need in Silicon Valley, we absolutely have to have…talented people in this country.”

However, soon after the debate ended – when the television cameras were off, Trump released a statement recanting what he had said just hours before, and returning to his original position:

“The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: These are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay…I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”

While the news media and Trump’s Republican presidential rival Marco Rubio immediately picked up on the succession of quick reversals, the point is this:

Trump has a long history of inconsistency, of saying whatever he thinks he needs to say to a given audience or when put on the spot.

Yes, most politicians do this, but never have I seen a major candidate of either party reverse himself so brazenly or so quickly.

Play a different game

The crux of all of this is that there’s no doubt in my mind as to Trump’s strategy – say whatever it takes to outrage the media and dominate the news cycle.

His ultimate image – the brand that is attracting supporters – is that of the successful businessman (which Fortune and others have largely debunked) who is authoritative and decisive – the man who can diffuse moderator Megyn Kelly instantly by reversing his stance on H-1Bs (again, while the spotlight is on) – it’s not what he said, but how he said it – with the confidence and speed of a decisive leader.

But the game is subtler than that. The Huffington Post published a short piece that noted how the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are fundamentally different than those of Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio in that the former are positioning themselves the leaders of social movements whereas the latter are focusing on the candidates as personal brands.

Movements vs. Brands

For Huffington Post contributor Cait Lamberton, Trump’s positioning his candidacy as a movement effectively insulates him from criticisms of inconsistency, as:

“Changes in a movement are understood as natural evolution, not a lack of reliability. History is irrelevant, particularly for new movements. This characteristic of movements explains Trump’s invulnerability to flip-flop critiques- it is simple for him to explain that

a.) his life before starting his movement is irrelevant, and

b.) since much information is new to him, learning is to be expected.”

The image of the winner outweighs Trump’s hypocrisy

A final point to make about Trump’s brilliant branding helps explain how Trump has not yet been hurt by admissions that, for instance, he has benefitted from the H-1B visa program even while saying he would curtail or eliminate it if elected.

Or that he criticizes big corporations for exporting jobs abroad to take advantage of cheaper labor in Southeast Asia, only to then have it come to light that he has done the exact same with his businesses.

As posited by Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent,

“revelations like these actually bolster his message, rather than undercutting it.”

“Trump’s argument is that he has a unique grasp, via direct experience and participation, of all the ways in which our political and economic system is rigged to make it easier for people such as himself to fleece working Americans. This understanding of how the game really works positions him well to fix it. He has been in on the elites’ scam for decades, and now, having made a killing off of it, he’s here to put an end to it.”

In other words, Trump’s hypocrisy is irrelevant because it plays directly into the narrative that he is such a savvy businessman.

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