The media coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump misses the point. While the race for president is about each person, the process, the scandals, the outrage and the stories that have a life of their own are not about the people — they are about the “brand.”
The most passionate advocates for each candidate have defended and supported them, recognizing their shortcomings but urging us to believe each candidate will be better because they just are better — the way any brand with a loyal following just is.
Newspapers and advocates of each side shout at the top of their lungs about this historic election, offering evidence of Clinton’s inappropriate handling of emails and Trump’s personal attacks.
In the latest battle, Trump has taken to the airways to respond to Khizr Khan, the parents of a Muslim-American war hero.
The question isn’t whether this reveals something new about Trump, the person. It doesn’t. Surely anyone who has watched Trump over the last year or so realizes that his personal style, and the brand under which he is running for the highest office in the land, emanate from a scripted character. He doesn’t let anyone question him or his brand without counterattacking. He has become a talking head in touch with his irascible side.
That may be what attracts people to him. There is no political correctness, a term he utters with such disdain that he says it as if he is standing at a podium filled with soiled diapers. The Trump brand and playbook mandate that a best defense is a good offense.
If he’s offensive in the process, who cares? He doesn’t — and on the whole it appears many of his supporters don’t, either. He may have been right that he could shoot somebody in Times Square and not lose votes because outrageous words and actions are a part of his brand.
While I don’t agree with the slash-and-burn approach to the personal and political battles he fights, I recognize he’s probably not fighting for the little guy, the medium-sized guy or the big guy so much as he’s fighting for his brand. In a country where products and marketing are so inextricably intertwined, he is the best advocate for Brand Trump. Does being Trump prohibit him from saying “I’m sorry” or “I’m wrong”?
Those who hated him before have more ammunition in their battle with him. But what does he care? If they weren’t loyal to the brand and they weren’t his customers, he hasn’t lost anything.
What will cause voters loyal to Brand Trump — or, put another way, those who are angry, fearful or resentful of the Clinton brand — to change their minds? How far can he go before some of those who identify with him decide he shouldn’t become president?
Does this pitched battle with the Khans — parents of a slain and decorated war hero — do for the Trump brand what the attack on the U.S. Army did for Sen. Joseph McCarthy? His pursuit of communists damaged and destroyed lives and careers in the early 1950s until Joseph Welch, the chief counsel for the Army, asked McCarthy in 1954 if he had “no sense of decency.”
For Brand Trump, decency doesn’t seem to have been a priority up until now. The question, however, is whether those buying the product will care enough about what he says or thinks to force a change in the brand before they, themselves, choose the other brand.