While the political legacy of Donald Trump is for some a “to be determined” prospect, such is not the case when it comes to the Trump brand, according to observers.
“The Trump brand is uniquely tied to everything he does and says,” said David Taylor, associate professor of marketing at Sacred Heart University. “When his presidency takes a hit, there’s a direct correlation to the brand — and right now it’s closely associated with violence and riots.”
Indeed, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, carried out by a mob seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election — which, depending on one’s personal viewpoint, Trump instigated during an earlier rally — may be one from which the name cannot fully recover.
Dozens of corporations have announced they are suspending political action committee (PAC) contributions to Trump and members of the U.S. Congress who voted against certifying Joe Biden as the nation’s next president — some for a few months and others for the foreseeable future.
Those include Purchase-based Mastercard, Visa and American Express, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Hallmark, AT&T, Comcast, American Airlines, Dow, The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Marriott International and Coca-Cola.
A number of business organizations also have expressed their objections to the insurrection. The Business Roundtable, a D.C.-based nonprofit whose members include the CEOs of Harrison-headquartered PepsiCo and other major U.S. companies, issued a statement saying that, “The country deserves better. Business Roundtable calls on the President and all relevant officials to put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.”
In addition, the PGA of America’s board of directors voted to terminate an agreement to play the PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2022.
“It has become clear that conducting the PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster would be detrimental to the PGA of America brand, and would put at risk the PGA’s ability to deliver our many programs, and sustain the longevity of our mission,” Jim Richerson, president of the PGA of America, said in a video statement.
The Trump Organization responded: “We have had a beautiful partnership with the PGA of America and are incredibly disappointed with their decision. This is a breach of a binding contract, and they have no right to terminate the agreement.”
The New York Times described Trump as “gutted” by the PGA decision.
Twenty-four hours later, Martin Slumbers, CEO of the Scotland-based R&A — golf’s governing body, along with the U.S. Golf Association — issued a statement saying that “We had no plans to stage any of our championships at (Trump-owned course) Turnberry and will not do so in the foreseeable future. We will not return until we are convinced that the focus will be on the championship, the players and the course itself and we do not believe that is achievable in the current circumstances.”
The art of the brand
“Branding is everything in sports, and these alliances come in many forms — naming rights, sponsorships and licensing and endorsement deals,” said Josh Shuart, director of the Sport Management Program at the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology.
“It is no secret that Trump has leveraged his name forever — predominantly as a developer or licensor of luxury hotels, golf courses and other entertainment properties,” Shuart said. “The brand was successful before his presidency and was positioned to continue post-presidency. Recent events have obviously significantly and negatively impacted that brand and companies are running as fast as they can from any association.”
While many failed Trump projects before he became president have become the butt of jokes (Trump Vodka, Trump Ice bottled water, Trump Steaks, the Trump Shuttle airline) and/or the subject of lawsuits (Trump University, the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City), his central businesses have been golf courses and hotels — and the latter are also facing an uncertain future.
Even before the riot at the Capitol, the native New Yorker saw his name stripped from the Trump SoHo hotel and from condominiums at 140, 160, 180 and 200 Riverside Blvd.
On Jan. 13, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was terminating its contracts with the Trump Organization due to the riot; those contracts include the city-owned Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, the Central Park Carousel and a pair of ice skating rinks.
Those moves may be in violation of the contracts’ language, but the mayor insisted that “We’re on strong legal ground.”
Meanwhile, city planners in Vancouver, Canada, are calling for the removal of the name from its Trump Hotel — which has been closed since August — and Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegas has said he will introduce an ordinance this month to remove the name from that city’s Trump International Hotel & Tower.
“That may allow us to take the sign down finally,” Villegas told the Chicago Tribune. “The sign just doesn’t represent Chicago’s values.”
Trump-branded properties in Fairfield and Westchester counties, including the Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, appear to be safe for now.
“The name and brand are meant to be synonyms for luxury, ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’,” Taylor said. “But now corporations are fleeing in droves, and the average person now makes a really bad association (with the name).”
Not helping the bottom line are the massive financial losses seen at all hotels during the pandemic, with those at the high end particularly hard hit. Exacerbating that situation are decisions by Deutsche Bank, Trump’s primary lender for nearly 20 years, to stop doing business with him in the face of the approximately $300 million he owes the bank; and by Signature Bank, which helped bankroll the construction of the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. The latter has called upon Trump to resign “in the best interests of our nation and the American people” — quite an about-face for an institution that once boasted of having Ivanka Trump on its board.
Underscoring much of this activity is Trump’s behavior leading up to and following the Jan. 6 uprising. Although Vice President Mike Pence turned a deaf ear to Democrats’ calls for invoking the 25th Amendment — which allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to vote to remove a president if they judge him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” — Democrats were at press time pushing ahead with an article of impeachment, an effort that a handful of Republicans indicated they would support.
“His brand is severely tarnished,” said Gary Rose, chairman of the department of government at SHU. “But he’s ultimately going to try to keep going.”
Rose said Trump had survived the many scandals and controversies that have occurred since he took office on Jan. 20, 2017, “because he has charisma and obviously a speaking ability, which appeals to a segment of the nation’s adult population — those who feel their way of life is dissipating and who feel powerless within the system. Donald Trump gives them a sense of efficacy, power and importance and that they finally have an advocate who can speak for them.”
The professor also acknowledged a racial dimension to Trump’s appeal. “Of course there’s a racial dimension to supporting Trump. I’m not saying that all Trump supporters or all Republicans are racist. But he articulated that when he talked about immigration and how Mexicans threatened our way of life, and from there it grew into an ‘us vs. them’ view that his demographic found appealing.”
Rose questioned whether Trump would run as a Republican candidate for president in 2024.
“The challenge for Republicans now is to distance themselves from him. I don’t think many (Republican) candidates for Congress in 2022 are going to want his endorsement. He’s going to be a pariah in many ways to a lot of Republicans.”
However, he added, “There is the prospect of forming a third party, a Ross Perot-like populist movement.”
As for reports that Lara Trump, who is married to Eric, might run in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate, Rose flatly stated, “She doesn’t have a chance.”
Although the FBI has warned the governors of all 50 states that potentially violent demonstrations could take place in their capitals, as well as in D.C. again, on or around Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, Rose said he did not foresee a rerun of Jan. 6.
He also expressed doubts about the impeachment efforts, saying that it was important for Biden to “come out of the box strongly. He needs to get democracy up and running again, put (the Trump issue) to rest after the transfer and get down to business.”
Meanwhile, both New York and Connecticut are sending members of their respective National Guards to the Capitol to help with security efforts.
On Jan. 12, Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano announced his resignation in an email to members of the party’s central committee. That decision was apparently not directly influenced by the insurrection, with Romano writing: “It is time for a new voice to be heard from the Connecticut Republicans. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to lead the Party.”
Outside of the political arena, what does the future hold for the Trump brand?
“When other brands are damaged beyond repair, you rebrand them,” Taylor said. “But I think that’s antithetical to Trump as a brander and a marketer.”
Taylor cited Henry Ford, a notorious anti-Semite, as one example. “The Ford Motor Co. name is not associated with Henry Ford these days.”
Likewise, brands like Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima and Mars Inc.’s Uncle Ben’s, whose mascots had long been accused of reinforcing racist stereotypes, removed them last year in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. While the syrup has retained the name, the rice line has been rebranded Ben’s Original.
Trump, however, is a special case.
“His brand is so tied to him as a person that the association is almost impossible to unlink,” Taylor said. “He’s such a prominent person, a celebrity, that I don’t see how a rebrand would work.”
Eric Trump, however, had a different take.
“There has never been a political figure with more support or energy behind them than my father,” the outgoing president’s son said in a statement on Jan. 11. “There will be no shortage of incredible opportunities in real estate and beyond.”
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