Democrats are already looking ahead to the presidential race in 2020, with numerous candidates stating their intention to throw their hat into the primary ring. Conservative Republicans hoping to challenge President Trump in a GOP primary should too.
A successful primary challenge will depend on attacking Trump as a brand rather than Trump as a politician.
To succeed, conservatives must offer a better brand, rather than just compete for the ideological hearts and minds of voters. Think Pepsi taking on Coke, or Burger King challenging McDonald’s. Branding experts will tell you that taking on the marketplace’s top brand is daunting — but not impossible.
To make a conservative brand successful, it must be unique. Some experts have surmised that a brand is whatever your customers (in this case, voters) define it to be. From MAGA to Trump’s very name, the president’s populist power emanates from his brand: “a winner,” “tough negotiator,” and “billionaire” — an image built over decades.
The genius of MAGA is that it allows each individual voter to self-identify what would “Make America Great Again.” In that way, it allows each voter to believe Trump’s story, that Trump represents whatever they believe America needs. Through MAGA, ordinary men and women (or in some cases white nationalists, nativists and protectionists) come to believe that Trump actually cares about their causes or them as individuals.
Conservatives must offer a compelling brand alternative to this one if they hope to defeat Trump.
Don’t believe we are in a brand war? See if the president’s political strategy is visible in these building brand loyalty tips:
—Stand out by being different (businessman vs. politician).
—Know your target market, and cater to those people (non-college educated whites).
—Incorporate a series of positive, branded experiences (rallies).
—Allow your customers (voters) to interact with one another (via social media).
—Make your brand a component of personal identity. (’Nuff said.)
In the face of Trump’s successful branding, neither classic conservative nor progressive political arguments for or against this president stick.
In 2017, Facebook conducted research into brand loyalty. Of 14,700 adults surveyed, a remarkable 77 percent indicated they bought the same brands over and over again, with 37 percent self-identifying as “brand loyalists.” Trump has combined the strong branding of the commercial world with the tribal loyalties of politics.
To challenge the non-ideological Trump, conservatives need a brand of their own: a figure with whom voters can identify, and one who can directly attack Trump’s unique brand. A candidate who can do that while simultaneously embodying decency and presenting a clear, conservative vision without resorting to lies and fear mongering must have uncanny political skill. But that’s what it will take to persuade voters to switch over.
Conservatives must find a viable voice for voters to identify with to challenge meaningfully another aspect of Trump’s brand: the concept that ‘only he can solve America’s problems.’ Trump is moving the Republican Party toward a party of personality. But you can’t govern on just personality. We need a return to our values and principles.
Retired Navy Adm. William McRaven recently dared Trump to strip him of his security clearance. McRaven is a person who embodies decency and vision with a strong conservative core who can communicate without resorting to the fear-mongering and outright lies, which are the Achilles’ heel of Trump’s brand.
That is how a conservative Trump challenger can stand-out, as “different” and worthy of a voter switching brand loyalty. Because, despite what progressives may hope, no true conservative is ever going to cross-over to vote for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or any other progressive presidential hopeful.