Yesterday, I suggested that the key to Donald Trump’s success so far in this presidential campaign may be belief in the Trump brand — the same faith exhibited by those who enrolled in Trump University. As a friend puts it, Donald Trump isn’t running for president, “Donald Trump” is.
Years ago, I read somewhere that a key to Trump’s business success is his ability to lend his name to enterprises operated by others. Trump University is an example, along with Trump Steaks and Trump Vodka, ventures that Marco Rubio has mocked.
Kevin Williamson discusses this phenomenon in the context of more successful “Donald Trump” businesses:
[Trump] boast[s] that he employs a large number of people at a Honolulu hotel he claims to own. But he does not employ anybody at that hotel, and does not own the hotel. Trump is lying.
Trump has a famous name, and he rents it to various enterprises, much like Paris Hilton and her perfumes or George Foreman and his grills. The Hawaii hotel in question makes it very plain that it is not owned by Donald Trump: “Trump International Hotel & Tower Waikiki Beach Walk is not owned, developed or sold by Donald J. Trump, the Trump Organization or any of their affiliates.”
Trump is, as Williamson says, conning voters who infer from his name the ability to help America win through great deals. Trump U students similarly inferred that “Donald Trump” would help them become successful and wealthy.
Williamson believes that many voters are willing to be conned because they are full of spite and wish to annoy people they resent. This may be true. But the people who were conned by Trump U were not full of spite and resentment. They just wanted to get rich quick.
I don’t mean to discount anger as an explanation for the rise of Trump. But Ted Cruz also makes a strong pitch for voters disgusted by “the Washington cartel.”
Trump is more iconoclastic than Cruz and this is probably one key to his success. The most salient difference between the two, however, may be that voters believe “Donald Trump” has more to offer than a first term U.S. Senator.