Scott has correctly characterized Donald Trump’s bizarre victory “press conference” on Tuesday night as an exercise in brand protection. An even more bizarre example was Trump’s defense of the size of his member during the last GOP defense.
We have speculated that the key to Trump’s appeal is faith in his brand. As a friend put it, it isn’t Donald Trump who is running for president, it is “Donald Trump.” He stands for bigger and better in every realm.
Understandably, then, Trump feels a political need to protect his brand. But the great lengths to which he goes to protect it suggest a psychological need, as well.
In this context, consider the lawsuit Trump brought years ago against Timothy O’Brien, then of the New York Times. O’Brien wrote a book called TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, in which he said that Trump was worth considerably less than what he publicly claimed. At the time (2005), Trump said he was worth $5-6 billion. Taking into account Trump’s debts and other obligations, O’Brien said Trump was worth $150-250 million.
According to Paul Fahri of the Washington Post, Trump spent more than $1 million in legal fees pursuing this suit for five years. Eventually, the case was thrown out of court because Trump failed to prove that O’Brien acted with malice and reckless disregard for the truth. It didn’t help Trump’s case that he admitted during his deposition that he relied on his own “feelings” in assessing the value of his holdings.
$1 million actually isn’t that much money to spend in five years of litigation these days. For Trump, moreover, it was a drop in the bucket, regardless of his actual net worth.
What’s odd is that he would bring such a lawsuit at all. The standard of proof required of a public figure like Trump in this sort of case is onerous. Trump’s subjective view of the value of his holdings was never going to cut it.
Was this brand protection run amok? Just as with his recent political success, Trump’s business success depends on mystique. For example, a potential sucker probably is more likely to enroll in Trump University if Trump is worth $6 billion than if he is worth $200 million.
So there is, I suppose, a plausible economic explanation for Trump’s suit against O’Brien. But when we look at the pattern formed by the lawsuit, the press conference merchandise display, and debate boast about his anatomy, I think it’s legitimate to worry about Trump’s psychological makeup.
But let’s put this concern to one side. Would it not be dangerous to elect a president who, whether for psychological reasons or not, is this obsessed with his personal brand?