Donald Trump's Brand Takes a Self-Imposed Plunge

How the would-be presidential candidate's political shenanigans have damaged his other endeavors

Not that I ever planned on getting my Dad a Trump tie for Father’s Day – even before the Birther silliness – but The Donald’s got some serious image repair to do if he plans on safekeeping his consumer brand. And there’s no reason to believe he had any other agenda over the last few weeks. 

Political experts have said all along that Trump never harbored any serious intentions of running for office but, instead, ginned up the possibility to satisfy equal parts rampant ego and clever strategic brand awareness. Somewhere along that path, however, he made serious missteps that now possibly put his carefully-built empire at risk.

For years, Trump has portrayed himself as a cross between “Bonfire of the Vanities” and Foghorn Leghorn:  a throwback to the '90s America – is it the 1990s or 1890s? – of excess and self-promotion. He’s been sometimes entertaining, generally harmless.  The DC political media (who’ll gush over the most irrelevant Hollywood D-lister) and the cable news channels (who know a surefire ratings pop when they see it) gave him the platform.

And then he nose-dived off it.

Trump behaved like he was in an “Apprentice” episode in need of a good producer and editor.  He kept chipping away at his image, which he’d always so carefully aligned with his eponymous products and services. Trump’s tirade about President Obama initially resonated with the Birthers. But then he went too far, mucking it up with silly claims about secret investigators who never materialized.

His self-absorbed live TV news appearances — which some comedians painfully likened to junior-high stump speeches – offered a stark contrast to his more carefully wordsmithed written statements, example #1 being Monday’s release announcing his decision not to run … misspellings, incorrect grammar and all. His habit of spewing rambling, demeaning insults at people who disagree with him crossed an uncomfortable threshold. 

While it was pretty tasteless years ago when he threw endless hate-filled indignities at Rosie O’Donnell, she was a tough cookie who’d spent a career pushing back at comedy club hecklers.  It’s something else to bully TV journalists, particularly well-respected female ones, just doing their jobs.

And then Trump’s attempt at diffusing charges of racism – the now-infamous boast about his popularity among “the blacks” – just made him look like that out-of-touch elderly uncle.

Finally, he never cracked a smile. 

One of Trump’s strengths has always been his ability to let us know … just a little, just enough … that he too was in on the joke.  But as various reporters tossed him some softballs — and then, even more famously during the White House Correspondents Dinner — he sat like a sphinx locked in a frozen scowl.  Strange as it seems, Trump showed more levity during his lewd Comedy Central roast only weeks before.

So now Trump’s alienated some very valuable demographics.  While he’ll claim — as he did in Monday’s statement – that he has millions of loyal followers, it’s hard to imagine that his marketing team isn’t holding some serious daylong strategy sessions. He’s easily lost a chunk of his celebrity clients. Not only have countless Democrats probably turned away, he’s possibly driven off Republicans angry that he sucked the air out of the room, damaging the chances of more viable 2012 candidates.

That’s a lot of Trump casinos, Trump apartment rentals, Trump hotels, Trump books, Trump vodka, Trump continuing ed courses and Trump menswear — from suits to sunglasses to those ties — that might take a hit. It doesn’t necessarily mean “Celebrity Apprentice” will suffer. 

The show’s success is due as much to strong casting and smart production as it is to the fact that it’s a few weekly hours of free entertainment.  But when it comes to whether the public will continue plunking down their money on what are primarily discretionary expenses under the Trump brand, the verdict’s out.

With The Donald’s better interests at heart, let me offer three pieces of advice toward fixing his cracked image.

First: Show a little humor. Maybe even a little warmth. If you think the last few weeks have been unpleasant for you, imagine how we feel. Compared to you, Charlie Sheen looks lighthearted.

Second: Take a break from us. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Finally: Just. Shut. Up. The scariest thing you can do to yourself is honor the promise you made in Monday’s statement, that “I will continue to voice my opinions loudly and help shape our politician’s [sic] thoughts…My ability to bring (issues) to the forefront of the national dialogue is perhaps my greatest asset and one of the most valuable services I can provide to this country.” In fact, it’s the most valuable service you can provide the media.  Now that you’ve established yourself as a fringe political player, it’s open season on you

You know how much you didn’t like the articles about alleged tax exemptions, draft dodging and no-voting records? Think of it this way:  If you start preaching about illegal workers, the media will investigate your hotel hiring practices.  Pontificate about jobs or outsourcing? They’ll start poking around to determine just where exactly your clothing line and man accessories are manufactured.

Stop with the politics and stick to “Apprentice.” Because that’s a platform that’s happy to have you.