Post election divisions continue to grow deeper and more pronounced, yet this trend does not seem to be motivating our president-elect to broaden his appeal and heal the wounds. With each passing day and each announcement, the battle lines are being drawn and we are being asked to choose sides. The Trump team is either determined to inflame or is just tone deaf with picks like Steve Bannon as strategic advisor. Forget Lincoln’s Band of Rivals favored by Obama, the Trump team is willing to float the likes of Sarah Palin as Secretary of the Interior. While these lighting rod characters keep the Trump team in the news, now that the election is over, the shock-jock tactics that helped elect him only fuel resistance and serve to remind us that we are bitterly divided.
Without a candidate to rally behind and without a majority in congress, there are few paths left open to the opposition. For many, the stakes seem extremely high with policies that will result in irreversible damage to the environment, women’s reproductive rights, universal healthcare and immigration reform. Such core principles do motivate people to action. Joining a resistance takes tremendous energy, drive, and deeply held commitments. Election campaigns have funding to maintain key staff and to run effective communication efforts that are required to brand and define a movement. Still, movements do come out of moments like this. The Tea Party is an extremely successful example of a movement that managed to brand itself and amass tremendous political power.
An anti-Trump movement could be quite successful, if it were to align with positions that actually enjoy majority support - abortion rights, responsible gun control, reasonable immigration, sensible environmental protection and tax cuts for the middle class. The movement could brand itself as The Main Street movement and lay claim to the mainstream values that it supported.
Protests alone will not accomplish much, but if a growing movement was detected by say, moderate Republicans, it could help create a firewall against Trump’s more extreme policies.
Without the ability to use a “we just won’t hold confirmation hearings” weapon, Democrats have nothing in their arsenal to stop a Republican agenda over the next two years. Republicans quite reasonably feel that the electoral college win should be respected – forget the fact that only a few weeks ago Trump was inciting resistance if he were to lose. Hillary supporters heard Trump’s language and that too has fueled a willingness to challenge the result. Trump might do well to consider that a rebrand must stand for something more moderate and also do damage control around his divisive election rhetoric.
Donald Trump’s campaign spoke directly to those who, above all else, wanted change. Evidence of a deeply flawed character and disposition were brushed aside, much like a cheery hostess might wave off a collapsed soufflé. Their warts-and-all candidate had linked his brand to business success, “winning”, and tough negotiating even when the facts did not support this strategy. Trump was masterful at convincing the electorate to look past his flaws and vote for disruption.
A brand promise however, cannot survive if it is not supported by results. Trump knows this and knows that he must give his backers what they are demanding. Since it is difficult to create jobs and grow the economy, he will have to make progress on other fronts to claim success. The low hanging fruit, DARPA, high profile deportations, extreme Supreme Court nominee, Keystone pipeline, the Paris Accord can all help deliver on his brand promise right away.
Trump will win the first round with a series of actions that will clearly support his brand as a strong leader. The next round will be more difficult as at least some of his supporters will become disillusioned and protests gain momentum. In this scenario, Trump may have to consider moves to broaden his appeal to a wider constituency. Trump showed early signs of trying to shift his brand slightly in his acceptance speech, using different language and a tone that was not evident in his campaign. But, his actions and words since then have done little to unite the country.
With little to go on, each side is watching carefully to see what Trump will do. His first few picks suggest that he is going to make good on some of his most extreme policies. While the current protests in the streets or the barrage of criticism emanating from the entertainment world will probably not motivate the Trump camp to modify their positions, the reality of the election cycle might. In this case, we would expect to see a rebranding of Donald Trump right before the midterms.
Above all, Donald Trump is a celebrity and thrives on the attention that his brand affords him. The Trump brand was forged in the winning genre of reality TV where reality is handled with a wink and a nod. This makes it easy to imagine that no matter what brand he chooses, it will contain the bluster, soap opera drama and disregard for the truth that a made-for-TV reality presidency show deserves.