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As Presidential Chances Dim, Trump Focuses on His Brand


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump, speaks during grand opening of Trump International Hotel-Old Post Office, Oct. 26, 2016, in Washington.

With poll numbers showing him falling further behind Hillary Clinton in key battleground states, Donald Trump this week focused on promoting some of his signature properties instead of more traditional campaigning. For an unorthodox politician, it was a return to form.

“Two years ago when we told the city of [Washington] Trump would be coming to Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016, we had no idea what we were foreshadowing,” Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter and executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday for the Trump Hotel in the nation’s capital.

The entire family was on stage for the event: Trump, his wife, Melania, and his four children, each equipped with a pair of golden scissors. Slicing together, they cut apart a deep red ribbon bearing the Trump name in the lobby of the hotel, which occupies the landmark Old Post Office Tower in downtown Washington, D.C., midway between the White House and U.S. Capitol.

Guests wearing VIP badges, flawless in their makeup and designer clothing, chatted over light breakfast pastries before the remarks, and left promptly once the event was over, to avoid the reporters, cameras and protesters outside.

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The first speakers, Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger and Ivanka Trump, focused almost entirely on the hotel itself, but the Republican presidential candidate’s speech floated seamlessly between brand and campaign.

“Our theme today is five words: under budget, ahead of schedule,” Trump told his attendees, referring to the hotel. But he pivoted immediately to point out that the opposite — over budget and behind schedule — was surely the theme of the federal government, as it has been led by President Barack Obama, whom Trump links inextricably to Clinton, his Democratic opponent in the presidential election, now 13 days away.​

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Trump delivered a very similar speech a few days earlier, during a stop in Florida that promoted one of his golf courses.

“His campaign is his brand; his brand is his campaign,” Sarah Oates, a professor at the University of Maryland, told VOA. “For most political candidates this would seem odd; for him it makes perfect sense. He’s never distinguished between the business brand and the candidate brand — in fact, he deliberately links the two and campaigns on this platform of being a smart businessman.”

Protesters outside

As if mirroring the blurring of boundaries between brand and campaign, protesters gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Trump Hotel, holding signs calling out what they said was the candidate’s racist campaign and also calling for a boycott of Trump hotels and products.

This is far from the first time the Trump brand has met the word boycott. Recently, the Twitter hashtag “grabyourwallet” began calling on women across the United States to shun clothes and shoes designed and marketed by Ivanka Trump.

To those who have purchased Ivanka Trump’s signature products, the message has been either return them for a refund or, if that’s not possible, burn them as a protest against the designer’s support of her father during the presidential campaign.

Donald Trump’s brands have been tarnished as well, with travel sites such as Hipmunk reporting a decline in business at his hotels and research group Brand Keys noting reduced sales of clothing and watches branded with his name.

The Trump Organization has denied any decline in business caused by the months of fiery political exchanges, and a corporate press release quoted Ivanka Trump as saying, “Our business at Trump Hotels is stronger than ever.”

However, Trump executives also have announced they will be rebranding the group’s hotels in the future. Lodgings that were Trump will become Scion Hotels, a name chosen because it means “descendant of a notable family,” according to the news release announcing the new company.

But hard numbers on how much sales of Trump items have declined are hard to establish, and the campaign’s long-term effects on the brand are yet to be seen.

“We don’t have any precedent with this,” Oates said. “The future will have to say what effect running for president has on your brand.”

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