Is Trump’s brand dead?
For years, Trump has managed to keep the spotlight on his brand – and stay in the hearts and minds of Republican voters – by pushing a narrative of a stolen election. But the results of this month’s midterm elections suggest that he could be losing his allure, writes Isobel’s Jamie Williams.
Donald Trump has announced that he will run for president again in 2024 / Adobe Stock
Last week, Donald Trump announced his candidacy to be the next president of the United States. And to make America Great Again. Again.
It’s been two years since Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States. And despite the continued investigations into Trump’s finances, the FBI raiding Trump’s home to take back highly classified documents, the constant drip feed of horror from the January 6 commissions and the recent announcement of a special counsel to investigate former president Trump, the Republican has until recently been the clear bookies’ favorite to be president again in 2024.
Trump has continued to fundraise, hold rallies and pick congressional and senate candidates (that preach his ‘stolen’ election message), and he remains by far the most popular and influential figure within the Republican party. Rather than move on, over the past two years the MAGA (Make America Great Again) brand has been very much alive and well in grassroots conservative America.
And after Elon Musk’s announcement over the weekend, Trump is now back on Twitter, his favorite social media platform.
So the assumption from many has been: Trump wins the Republican nomination by default, and then he runs against a weak Democratic party, with inflation sky high, the economy on the floor and an incumbent President Biden (if he decides to run again) with historically low approval levels. The stage seemed set for a Trump victory in 2024.
But things are changing... and fast
The last couple of weeks have been very bad for Trump.
The expected ‘red wave’ in the 2022 midterms failed to materialize, and against all the odds the Democrats performed incredibly well, holding on to power in the senate. Almost every single one of Trump’s hand-picked and endorsed candidates failed to win very winnable races. And the broad opinion is that they failed to win because they were weak candidates. The golden glow of the Trump brand was felt to be enough for them to win, but that turned out not to be the case.
2022 midterm losses have now been added to setbacks in the 2018 midterms (when the GOP lost the house majority under Trump), and the 2020 election (when Republicans lost the White House and the senate majority under Trump), leading to voices of discontent growing inside the GOP.
For a brand that’s built solidly on winning, losing elections is not a good look. As Trump himself has said: “America loves winners, period.” Just from those words alone, it’s easy to see why the “stolen” election message has been so important to Trump’s ego.
So why the downturn in the Trump brand reputation?
Put simply, it’s about relevance. For the last two years, Trump has had one message: that the 2020 election was stolen from him – the ‘big lie,’ as the US media calls it – with zero evidence to back up the claim. It’s all Trump’s interested in, and it seems to be his one key condition when he’s selecting candidates to endorse – they must preach his stolen election theory.
The problem for Trump, and Trump-backed candidates, is that people have moved on, and have new priorities — such as the economy, inflation, interest rates, the price of fuel, education, crime and the change in abortion laws. These are the issues that winning candidates (both non-Trump-backed Republicans and Democrats) campaigned on in 2022, not the results of an election two years in the past. Every brand must stay relevant to its audience; it can’t just keep talking about itself all the time. Unless you’re a hardcore fan, it gets boring.
The new kid on the block poses a brand challenge
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was the big Republican winner in this month’s midterms, significantly increasing his majority in a landslide reelection. At 44, he’s 32 years younger than Trump, he’s ultra-conservative and he talks about the future – not past elections. And it seems to be resonating with Republican voters, at least in Florida.
As he does with all his political enemies, Trump has already tried to re-brand DeSantis, giving him an attack name – Ron DeSanctimonious. It’s a sign he knows he’s in a serious fight.
So, is it the end of the road for Trump?
Not yet. According to many polls, he’s still the favorite to win the Republican nomination and the presidency. But his brand is not what it once was. His hardcore base is shrinking. He may struggle for major media backers, and most importantly, his ‘big lie’ message of a stolen election is increasingly irrelevant to today’s voters.
Brands can have triumphant comebacks. But many also fail miserably and are redefined by modern, fresher and more relevant brands.
Either way, it will be fascinating to watch what happens.
Jamie Williams is managing partner of Isobel.
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