I address this not just to the twenty million Democrats running for President, but Bill Weld, who is challenging Trump in the Republican primary.
Y’All have a problem. What makes Trump so effective- and dangerous- is that he is first rate at branding. He spews catchphrases and soundbites like “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall” like they’re nothing, and he keeps a steady stream of them going like a bigoted Pied Piper.
The man is master of building a brand, controlling his narrative. And it’s not just the self-promotion, he brands other people. Nicknames like “Little Marco,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Pocahontas”- not only is he master of controlling his own narrative, he is darn good at taking control of other people’s narratives.
In current times, people’s appetites for soundbites are ferocious. Trump’s aptitude at branding himself and others- quickly- is brilliant. The norm has been thirty second television commercials, but Trump can brand in under ten. Sure, his brands are generally disgusting, but anyone who thinks disgusting and effective are mutually exclusive has clearly never used vegan lube.
But the good news is, the Democrats- and Governor Weld- can beat Trump at his own game. All they need to do is step up their branding and take control of their narratives. Cory Booker’s “You Can’t Lead the People if You Don’t Love the People” is an excellent example. Sure, it’s in the vein of Barack Obama, but one can also argue that Obama’s platform is rooted in Harvey Milk’s iconic “You Gotta Give Them Hope.” Kamala Harris’s “For the People” is from the Gettysburg Address- smart and on brand for her. Bernie Sanders’s “Feel the Bern” is another good example. There are some great starts out there.
Build your brands tall and strong, because if you build them, people will come. Look no further than two very different (and very savvy) Democrats for inspiration- Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Those two women have firm control of their narratives and are, in their own ways, very effective politicians.
Take control of Trump’s narrative too. His defense game is terrible. All he generally accomplishes is to remind people how unfit he is. Props to Governor Weld for an excellent start with his “One Man Crime Wave”- succinct, accurate, and effective- I saw that everywhere in the press that evening.
But to be clear, it’s not just about building a brand. It’s about your brand building public trust and confidence that your vision of America works for everyone. You beat Trump at his game by making your brand about more than soundbites and catchphrases. A strong brand will include your plans and policies, which is why Elizabeth Warren currently rises in the polls. Income inequality? She has a plan. Healthcare? Housing inequity? Student debt? She has a plan. Tell Americans where you stand on marijuana legalization, Medicare for All, mass incarceration, fixing income and tax inequality, the Muslim and trans bans, and Trump’s abhorrent treatment of immigrants, especially at our Southern border. Trump is a bad news buffet of terrible policies that are making millions of Americans miserable. How are you going to improve life for all Americans? It’s not just acknowledging the equality and opportunity gaps, it’s telling us how you intend to fix them. If you’re not here to make America work for everyone- from coast to coast and everyone in between, every race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, income level- then go home. We need someone who’s here to work for everyone, not just who they perceive to be their base. You don’t have to take my word for it, check the polls- lots of Americans aren’t here for another round of 2016’s vitriol. Do better. We will hold you accountable if you don’t.
THAT is the brand you need to build: tall and strong, but with your twist. As I heard in a master class, every story has been written- what makes it special is what makes it yours. Take it from Uncle Joe, who is polling way ahead of everyone and has been since before he declared. Biden is case and point that you need both. Beto, Mayor Pete, Swallwell- they’re cute and give good speeches, but I couldn’t tell you their policy platform. I can tell you Warren’s, but there’s no X factor. The mainstream media favors the men, so women already have an uphill climb, they need that X factor.
And Weld- for the love of Pete, give that man a fight like he’s never seen.
Biden is great, but let’s give the American people plenty of options, show them plenty of politicians do hear them and want to help them thrive.
I give this advice with love. We cannot have four more years of Trump. Not only are his bigoted policies and xenophobic rhetoric dangerous, his incompetence at governing is costing and ruining lives. Puerto Rico, anyone? We need him out, and we need every single elected official, regardless of political party, who has been complicit or complacent out as well. So I beg you, please work on your branding. You know he’s working on his.