A few minutes into Donald Trump’s hideous diatribe on immigration Wednesday evening, the depravity of his message and modus operandi became brutally apparent. Trump has no intention of trying to win the presidency as a conventional GOP conservative “pivoting” toward the center. He’s either going to win as a hate-spewing demagogue or – far more likely – go down in flames and try to shamelessly cash in on his immolation.
It’s also painfully evident that he doesn’t care who or what gets incinerated with him, whether it’s individual GOP officeholders, a proud party forged by Abraham Lincoln, or the integrity of the U.S. electoral system, which he chillingly claims is “rigged” against him.
Ego and greed have always motivated Trump. For four decades, he’s carefully cultivated a brand based on his penchant for aggressive deal-making and his appetite for conspicuous consumption. For good or for ill, “Trump” has always been synonymous with free-wheeling business deals and living the good life.
But now he’s trading in that hard-earned brand for something new and extremely risky: a persona based on bigotry and ignorance. Should Trump lose in November – and the smart money, despite tightening polls, suggests he’s going to get drubbed – he runs the risk of derailing deals in his traditional business segments, among them commercial real estate, hotels, and gaming. Even long-time partners and investors are going to think twice about continuing to do business with a bully whose campaign exploited racism and misogyny.
As Miami-based branding expert Steve Halsey, managing director of G&S Business Communications shared with me, “Trump has taken one of the world’s most recognized business brands and co-opted it into something very different. He has allowed his brand persona to shift from being the ultimate businessman to the ultimate partisan. Add on the negatives associated with some of his more controversial positions and it is bad news for his core business brand.
“If Trump loses in November, his best brand path is to embrace his newfound populist appeal and create entertainment and media properties targeting this audience segment. This could be quite lucrative and finish the Trump brand’s evolution from real estate to entertainment.”
Trump has intuited all this, which explains his decision to elevate Breitbart News’ executive chairman Steve Bannon to be the CEO of his presidential campaign. For years, Bannon has trafficked in ignorance. Bannon took Breitbart, originally a journal of principled right-wing commentary, and turned it into ugly filth, unless you believe, as Bannon’s website does, that Gabby Giffords, the Member of Congress tragically wounded in a mass shooting, is the “Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield,” or that “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”
“The playbook started by Fox and followed by many in the Republican Party has been to at least try to provide their viewpoints with some connection to shared facts and context,” Jonathan told me. “The point of the game was to discredit the ‘liberal media’ to make Fox and its ilk the only trusted news source, and to keep the GOP base close and reliant.
“But, Fox spun facts to provide a viewpoint. Bannon and his ilk are not encumbered in this way – shared facts, or indeed demonstrable facts, are lost behind viewpoint and activism. Trump has been at the front of this parade for a long time. He was a “birther” and has expounded various conspiracy theories. Whether Trump wins or loses this election, his brand as the spokesman for the post-fact media is assured.”
Trump and Bannon want to become the trumpeters of the alt-right, ultra conservatives who have created their own post-fact, dystopian universe and are contemptuous of anyone who doesn’t swallow their dark worldview. They want to out-fox Fox in creating a new media empire that caters to – and bilks – a far more reckless breed of conservative. If Trump loses, he wins – at the cash register. The old Trump brand may founder but the new one is likely to flourish.
George Bernard Shaw was right: hatred is indeed the refuge of cowards and bullies. But Shaw never anticipated how profitable it could be.
Read Richard Levick’s entire column at Forbes.com.