Over the weekend, Donald Trump tweeted an image accusing Hillary Clinton of being corrupt that had a Star of David imposed over a pile of money on it.I understand why people think other Republican hucksters -- Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Ben Carson -- have used presidential campaigns in order to build their brands. But Trump had a pretty solid brand -- and his campaign has done tremendous harm to that brand. Fortune magazine assessed the damage back in December:
The whole thing is a sickening reminder of how Trump’s campaign loves playing footsie with the bottom-feeders of the country -- white supremacists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists -- but it also brings up another serious question, yet again: Is Trump actually trying to win the presidency? Or is he playing at something else here?
... Doing things like tweeting out anti-Semitic images and then offering half-baked denials is not really how you win an election. It is, however, a great way to cultivate the loyalty of the hard right base....
It’s further evidence that this is less a real presidential campaign and more what Republican strategist Rick Wilson dubbed a “scampaign”: Using the free press that a presidential run gets you as free advertising for a post-campaign career as a right-wing demagogue.
Univision, the largest Spanish-language television broadcaster in the United States, announced that in response to [Trump's anti-Mexican] comments, it would not air the 2015 Miss USA Pageant. Furthermore, it would sever ties with Miss Universe Organization co-owner Donald Trump....Some brand-building scam you've got there, Donald.
On June 29, NBC cut ties with Trump and canceled plans to air both the Miss USA Pageant and the Miss Universe Pageant, both joint ventures with the real estate mogul. It didn’t stop there either -- NBC also nixed any future involvement with Trump’s reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.” ...
Macy’s ... announced that it would discontinue its Donald Trump line of menswear in response to his comments. Macy’s had carried the clothing line since 2004, and Trump had appeared in television advertisements for the store....
On December 9, hot on the heels of his proposal to ban all Muslim immigration into the United States, CNN reported that the Dubai-based retailer [Lifestyle] had announced a ban on all of the Trump-branded home décor products in all 195 of its stores....
Until very recently, those with the inside track had said that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the sport’s governing authority outside of the U.S., would probably hold the 2020 [British Open golf] tournament at Trump Turnberry. However, after he had some harsh words for Muslims, Mexicans, women and China, The Independent on Sunday reported that he could now kiss those dreams goodbye
Retweeting anti-Semites is good for business? Alienating Jews as well as Muslims, Hispanics, blacks, and women -- that's going to earn Trump the big bucks? He's going to make his next billion appealing solely to people who post Photoshops of Anne Frank on an Easy-Bake Oven box? That's a lucrative market demographic?
If Trump had wanted to build his brand by recasting himself as a provocateur, he could have done so by tiptoeing up to lines he's eagerly crossed, the way Fox News does. He wouldn't have done it by insulting ethnic groups that include potential customers, or by flirting with neo-Nazis, or by attacking Megyn Kelly or John McCain or a disabled reporter.
I think Trump really wants to win this race, although I'm not sure he went into it believing that he could. However, it seems possible to me that the point of his run was never really victory or brand development. The point might just be filling the hole in his soul.
Trump craves approval the way a back-alley junkie craves heroin. In 2015, when he jumped into the presidential race, he hadn't been the toast of the New York tabloids for quite a while and his TV ratings were past their peak.
He ran with a message that was equal parts Roger Ailes and Howard Stern -- and the crowd went wild. He kept doing what made his base happy. The adulation made him happy.
I think of Trump as Kurtz -- Mr. Kurtz of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Colonel Kurtz of Apocalypse Now. Trump blew off a career to wander off into a remote jungle -- where he began to be worshipped as a god.
That's what Trump wanted. That's what he craves. He doesn't need the money -- he may not be worth as much as he says he is, but he's still a billionaire. He wants attention. He wants validation.
Now, attention and validation have been correlated with revenue for him in the past, so maybe he thinks history will repeat itself. Maybe, as Marcotte argues, this is an excellent brand-building exercise for what's reported to be Trump's next venture, Trump TV. But if you sold a product or service and hoped not to alienate a large part of the marketplace, would you advertise on a white-supremacist-friendly TV channel?
Trump wants adulation, and he's getting what he wants. Does he want to win? Sure, because he'll get even more adulation that way. But the adulation is the point.