Donald Trump is a walking branding machine, effectively giving Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted, and Little Marco nicknames they may never able to ditch. But as a new series of graphics by the New York Times show, he’s much better at negative spin than positive spin–and that’s having a serious impact on his ability to govern, particularly with regard to the failed Republican health bill.
The Times analyzed two years’ worth of Trump’s tweets, and found that he is skilled at bashing his enemies because he focuses on a single message and repeats it again and again. There’s “crooked” Hillary Clinton, “lying” Ted Cruz, “Pocahontas” and “goofy” Elizabeth Warren, and “lightweight” Marco Rubio. There’s the “failing” New York Times and the “fake news” and “dishonest” mainstream media. And there’s the “disaster” of Obamacare. The Times points out the inane repetition of these insults by simply putting Trump’s relevant tweets into giant word blocks and highlighting the words he repeats.
It’s an effective way to communicate Trump’s branding strategy: If you repeat something enough, it becomes the truth.
“The strategies that he has used against his foes—the repetition, the simplicity, the consistency, the essentializing—could just as easily be deployed to promote subjects as to deride them,” write New York Times reporter Emily Badger and graphics editor Kevin Quealy. “That is, after all, what much of marketing does.”
But Trump hasn’t managed to find similarly memorable ways to advocate for the legislation his party wants to pass, or even his hallmark immigration ban. His tweets on these often contradict themselves and don’t present a clear message, unlike those attacking his enemies.
The Times’s word blocks showing the repetitive, vicious nature of his insults are especially dramatic when they’re compared to a word block of his tweets about the failed Republican health care bill: All he can say is that it’s “great” and “wonderful,” which are far less compelling than his carefully chosen messages targeting each of the people and entities he rails against on Twitter.
Of course, in the actual marketing world, plenty of brands leverage consumers’ derision of the status quo to their advantage. Take T-Mobile, whose marketing tends to focus on its hated rivals, Verizon and AT&T, more than its own virtues. But it’s one thing to use tactics to paint other brands in a negative light in the business world. It’s a whole different story when the person doing so is the president of the United States. Given Trump’s tweets–and his failure to pass a single piece of major legislation–the president seems far more skilled at negative spin tactics than actually governing.
Trump is a pro at trash talk that sticks in people’s minds. It’s how he won the presidency. But he simply doesn’t have the same skill at branding his own “great” ideas.