There’s a lot of talk about how supporting Trump may take down the Republican party. Perhaps that remains to be seen, but I wanted to do a little test within my own mind to see what I associate to each of these terms today, at least from a branding perspective. I was curious how the past four years may have influenced what I associate with the word Republican.
Before Trump came onto the political scene, I tended to regard Republicans as mostly harmless but also patriotic, religious, and moralistic. I had plenty of friends who identified as Republican, and I found it easy to relate to them. Our interactions were pleasant. I especially met a lot of them through Toastmasters.
I was curious to see what’s in my head in terms of how my brain classifies Republicans and their latest President today, so I did a little word association just now. Off the top of my head, this is what popped out.
- can’t drink water
- can’t walk straight
- can’t stand straight
- literally crooked
- champion of the dumb
- reality distortion field
- you’re fired
- WTF is that hair?
- Heat Miser
Okay that’s pretty negative, but not surprising. Let’s continue…
- conspiracy theorist
- religious nutter
- out of sync
- past their prime
- Handmaid’s Tale
- red state
- flyover states
- boys club
- Fox News
- Tucker Carlson
- their own worst enemy
That does put a damper on our relationship.
So that brand or label is pretty much dead in my mind now. The past four years really dragged that word through the muck and left it to rot.
Is it too far gone to recover? I wonder about that, but I think that for myself personally, the honest answer is yes. I’ve mentally reassigned the word Republican to slot into the same general territory as other devalued brands like Enron, Weinstein, Monsanto, and Theranos.
If it went through a rough patch for a quarter or two, maybe it could bounce back. But four years of severe negative brand associations? I don’t think it’s going to come back from that. I think it’s permanently tainted.
This makes me wonder if other people feel the same. I’ll bet that many do. I think one reason is because of how partisan Trump was, siding so heavily with one party at the expense of everyone else. So many negative associations people had with Trump carried over to his enablers, his supporters, and throughout the rest of the party.
And of course a lot more people contributed to this negative branding effect than just Trump. Nevertheless, the deed is done.
Plenty of Republicans within the party saw this and tried to prevent it, but their efforts were unsuccessful, at least from my personal standpoint.
By contrast I don’t perceive any significant changes in the branding of the word Democrat. I don’t think it has shifted much during the past four years, at least not for me.
I don’t associate myself with a political brand, preferring to remain politically independent and not join any party. But if the word Republican has run itself into the ground for an independent voter like me – it’s kinda cool to say that I’m a voter now – I don’t think that bodes well for the party’s performance in future years.
The problem is when I look at a ballot now, my brain will automatically interpret it like this:
- Susie Lee, Democrat
- Dan Rodimer, Asshole
Hmmmm… tough choice.
When I voted for Biden, I was really casting an anti-asshole vote rather than a pro-Democrat vote. I voted against Trump, not really for Biden. Biden seems okay to me, and okay is a big step up from asshole. It would have been nice to feel that I was voting for something though – something more powerful than just voting for “anything but another four years of lying bullshit.”
How great is the Republican brand damage, and how many people does it affect? I guess we’ll find out in a couple of years at the midterm elections. Or we could rely on polls, but then again, pollsters have damaged their brand a bit as well, so people aren’t going to trust them as much.
I don’t think the Republican brand is going to recover, at least in the eyes of independents like me. If anything it seems to be headed in the direction of doubling-down on its negative associations, as many Trump supporters are now fleeing Facebook to join the social network Parler – a place that welcomes QAnon, open racism, and other negative associations. Facebook shut down the Stop the Steal group after hundreds of thousands of people joined it, so baseless conspiracies will find a home elsewhere. The problem for the Republican party is that these ridiculous positions are woven into their brand now, and that’s an untenable situation that cannot endure.
I think the core problem is that instead of cutting out the cancer, the Republican party has too deeply rebranded themselves as the cancer during the past four years. After retraining so many people to see them like that, and especially since this is still ongoing and even getting worse in some ways, I think it will be nearly impossible for them to come back from this.
This makes me wonder if it’s intentional on some level. It sure looks to me like the party is self-destructing. I mean really – where are they supposed to go next with anti-science? How long is that going to last? How much truth needs to crash down on them to reveal the folly of such a stance?
Maybe they can reinvent themselves, but where’s the will and the leadership to do that? Even now we’re still seeing the opposite. I think they’ve violated the trust of so many people, not just in the USA but globally, that there just isn’t much of a viable path to recovery, at least not anytime soon.
This situation could very well create an opportunity for a stronger third-party opening. With one brand limping forward and potentially dying, we may very well see a fresh political brand rise up to replace it, especially if the new party connects to what people care about these days.