How Donald Trump played rope-a-dope with the media and turned sponsorship divestment into a free advertising bonanza

Those black-rimmed-glasses cable political analysts are seriously and shoutily reporting:

Donald Trump has insulted a major voting demographic! (gasp!)
Donald Trump has dissed the venerated decorated war veteran John McCain! (gasp!)
Donald Trump has Tommy TuTone’d Lindsay Graham’s phone number! (gasp!)

And yet…and YET…stay tuned, folks, the round panel will continue to go ’round on this discussion after the break to try to understand why, despite these soundbite bombs, Donald Trump is STILL AHEAD IN THE POLLS!!!!

Of course he’s ahead in the polls. OF COURSE HE IS. Those gasping analysts in fact do understand why – but saying so would reveal the self-serving nature of the news coverage. Relentlessly goading that faux confusion keeps people roped in and watching, and thus pumps up the ad revenue.

What is going on is that the polls, at this tender time in the GOP clown car (now a stretch limo) round-up, do not measure whether a respondent to a poll will actually vote for a particular person when push comes to punch chad. The polls, at this moment, are mostly measuring name recognition.

Here is a FOX news poll question, asked 6 times between March and July:

I’m going to read a list of potential candidates for the 2016 Republican nomination. Please tell me which one you would like to see as the Republican presidential nominee.

The names of the following candidates were read. The most recent percentages from the July 13-15 round are below.

Donald Trump 18%
Scott Walker 15%
Jeb Bush 14%
Rand Paul 8%
Marco Rubio 7%
Ben Carson 6%
Ted Cruz 4%
Mike Huckabee 4%
Chris Christie 3%
John Kasich 2%
Rick Santorum 2%
Carly Fiorina 1%
Rick Perry 1%
Lindsey Graham *
Bobby Jindal *
George Pataki *
(Other) 1%
(None of the above) 4%
(Don’t know) 9%

There are many ongoing polls (polls are big business, news- and candidate-wise); I chose the FOX poll to illustrate this point simply because it is beyond discussion that they are in favor of Republican candidates.

There is nothing wrong with the question itself. The problem is with analysts making the implied prior assumption that the respondent is equally familiar with all of the candidates and their positions. The question asks who you would like to see as the nominee, not whether you are currently familiar with each and every candidate and their respective positions.

May I point out here that Don’t Know, that feckless candidate, polled at 9%?

Don’t Know got more votes than Rand Paul. Or Marco Rubio. Or Chris Christie (remember him?).

Much of campaign advertising is bought on the sadly safe bet that more impressions – the number of times you’ve seen a candidate’s name or ad – translates into more votes. And with respect to name recognition, Donald Trump has had a huge head start.

If your name is on several major buildings, if your name was on nationally-broadcast reality shows and pageants spanning several seasons, if your name is on a state park and thus plastered on signs people see daily on the New York Taconic State Parkway, your name is overall going to be much more recognizable than, say, someone who hasn’t been in office for years, or someone who’s unknown outside of their state, or someone from the non-media private sector.

Trump has sponsored or otherwise lent his name to many events, products, and services over the years. Many of those have now dumped him, seemingly as a result of those recent controversial comments. The Huffington Post notes that, besides the PGA,

Other companies that have dumped or distanced themselves from Trump since he treated throwing his hairpiece in the ring as a reality TV episode include Macy’s, NBCUniversal, Univision, NASCAR, ESPN, Farouk Haircare Systems, and Serta Mattress.

Depending on how you would vote, you’re either feeling sadness or schadenfreude right now. Well, don’t cry for The Donald, because….


That’s right: campaign finance laws regarding accounting for campaign advertising and for providing equal time for candidates on television would have made those sponsorships an equal-time headache.

Trump has taken something that he would have had to do anyway – divest of sponsorship interests for the duration of the campaign – and, by doing it in a controversial way, turned it into a whirlwind of free media attention for himself. He is sucking up all the cable news airtime, giving the other candidates the cover to quietly campaign and fund-raise without the pesky media asking questions. And, as a bonus for the rest of the Republican field and for the companies and events he has sponsored, Trump has now given them an opportunity to seem to righteously support special interests and issues (immigration, Hispanics, veterans) not by actually coming out with policy positions and initiatives themselves, but by condemning him instead.

Trump is a canny self-promoter who is also doing the other Republican candidates, and thus their corporate interests, a huge favor. He is ahead in the polls, and he will stay ahead in the polls as long as he wants to, because he is brilliant at playing rope-a-dope with the media and getting them to boost his name recognition for free.

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