Trump, O'Malley & Underdogs

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump, August 6, 2015. (photo credit:REUTERS)



Why has Donald Trump, a non-politician, surged to the head of the pack in the polls, earning center stage at last night’s GOP debate?


Part of the answer is within the question – because he’s a non-politician and the furthest thing from a Washington insider. Indeed, while Trump has incredible name recognition, he’s still a challenger brand when it comes to established GOP names, such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, etc. But is that all there is to it?


Trump shot to the top, by picking an issue, really a singular issue and sticking to it – immigration. That was his nail and he hammered it home with his brash style, over and over again.


Likewise and on the other end of the political spectrum, why hasn’t former Governor O’Malley moved an iota in the Democratic race? He’s got Kennedyesque youth and good looks. But can anyone name his main issue? What’s the one thing, that marks him, yes, brands him? When Senator Elizabeth Warren didn’t enter the race on the Democratic side, it left a wide opening on Hillary’s left, so Bernie Sanders came in, staked a claim and owned it. Bernie’s a fighter and for the common man. He tells it like it is.


A while ago, I wrote that Martin O’Malley needed to be a challenger brand like Under Armour to Hillary’s Nike.  When Under Armour came on the scene, its thing was a wicking fiber that didn’t allow clothes to stick to athletes.  UA was priced above or equal to its rival Nike.  For many consumers, if it costs more, there must be a reason and therefore, it must be better.  UA surged and the rest is history.


To reach the top, challengers needs one clear, singular message to cut through and make a name for themselves.  Once there and an established brand, then they can begin to branch out, as Under Armour has done into footwear and women’s apparel, etc.


For those who don’t know him, which is most of Iowa and New Hampshire, Governor O’Malley doesn’t have that one thing that he’s hitting, so his laundry list gets lost in the wash.


From the outset, had O’Malley chosen for example, climate change and positioned himself as the candidate who cares more about that one issue than any other, and also had a record from supporting alternative energy, wind and solar power, he could have (and I suppose still can) carve out a niche for himself. 


But while O’Malley’s given speeches and written Op-Eds saying he will phase out fossil fuels by 2050, it’s bundled together on a platform of numerous other issues such as better wages for workers, accountability to Wall Street, support for women and families, etc.


A showman and a demagogue, yes of course he is, but by rising to the top of the heap among sixteen qualified candidates, the Trump 2016 phenomenon is more than anything, a case study in brand marketing.


Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at [email protected]