(If you watched the debate, share your thoughts in a short survey here)Tonight, the top 10 polling Republicans face off in the first of the Republican Presidential debates (or as I call it… the Donald Trump Debate). The Donald Trump debate is interesting because it provides an in-depth look at the brand of Republican for the next handful of years. But of course, the big story is not the field of 10, despite all of the attention to Fox’s methodology of eliminating and picking candidates based upon polling data differences that were less than the margin of error (but that is what I have come to expect from Fox News). The big story is Donald Trump.
A conversation on the Donald Trump debate.
So let me share with you a conversation I overheard just last week. I was deplaning (their word, not mine) from a flight from Denver to Washington DC. We had about five extra minutes because the jet bridge was not ready for our early arrival (what a surprise that a three plus hour of flight caught the airline by surprise… but that is another blog).
The flight attendant in the cabin was one of those chatty types whose painted-on smile never seemed to leave her face. She smiled at everything everyone said as if it was the most wondrous comment she had ever heard. Friendliness was most important to her. Great judgment was secondary. I actualy hoped the captain would say that on this flight, the flight attendant in the front of the plane was there primarily for friendliness and not customer safety. But that never happened.
But I digress. I don’t know how the discussion started but when I tuned in, she was gabbing in an animated way with the elderly couple in the first row.
- Flight Attendant: “Yes, my husband is so upset that Donald Trump is leading in the polls that he is thinking about leaving the Republican Party.”
- My thought: You should NEVER talk politics as a flight attendant. You have no idea who you are offending.
- The lady in the first row: (a slight chuckle) “Yes he is a loose cannon, for sure”
- Her Husband: “But he is keeping it interesting”
- The man across the aisle: “He says whatever is on his mind. Just like he did on his reality show.”
- Flight Attendant: “I can’t believe some of the things he says. (Big Smile) Crazy.”
- The lady in the first row: “He is very brash and I think he is a bit crazy. But still, I agree with some of the things he says.”
- The man across the aisle: “And what would they be that you agree with?”
- Everyone: (Silence)
What drives political loyalty? Is the Donald Trump debate part of that?
My thought: I guess they love the theater of it all. The brashness, aggressive anger and hutzpah. But no one wanted to admit that they might have liked the fact that he belittled John McCain and labeled Mexican immigrants as all being rapists and criminals. In our political world, style and bravado are much more important than substance.
As a brand guy, I know a bit about identification with a brand. It is tied to an emotional belief rather than facts, figures or rational reasons. The lady in the first row would have liked nothing Donald Trump had to say had he been a Democrat. She was willing to excuse his stupid comments and even claim that some of them made sense to her (despite the fact that she could recall none of them) because truth has very little to do with belief and brand self-identification.
The Donald Trump debate. Win or lose?
Which brings me to the debate tonight. It is all about whether Donald Trump survives tonight and actually has a chance at winning the nomination. To keep his brand strong, all he needs to do it be Donald Trump. Be aggressive, make personal jabs, belittle his opponents and not come accoss like a politician who feigns respect for the other debaters.
If Donald seems in any way polite and restrained, then the Donald is done. If he is unforgiving and brash, the mainstream Republicans will begin to warm up to him. I actually think he can win the nomination because, when push comes to shove, Republicans “like some of the things he says”. Or they will pretend to like them. So, what’s the difference?