The Donald Trump Shopping Network: 3 Questions I Had Watching Donald Trump’s Victory Speech Last Night
By now, we’re all used to long, rambling Trump speeches. However, his speech last night after winning the Michigan and Mississippi primaries included a new element: product placement. No matter what channel you tuned into, you had a front row seat to the Donald Trump Shopping Network.
In hindsight, the politics of masculinity displayed throughout the Republican primary race should have prepared me for a speech devoted to soothing Trump’s ego after Mitt Romney’s #NeverTrump message. Nonetheless, his rhetoric and air time continue to boggle the mind.
I have studied how women can effectively run for executive office for almost 20 years. So, every time Trump speaks, I can’t help but ask myself if his tactics would have him leading the Republican pack if he were a woman. Here are just a few of the questions I’ve been thinking about since watching the procession of Trump paraphernalia last night:
1. Do men and women need to meet different definitions of “success” to be considered successful?
For women candidates, it’s essential to use action-oriented phrasing, and Barbara Lee Family Foundation research shows that the phrase “started a successful business” helps women candidates show they are qualified. But women candidates also have to be especially careful not to seem disingenuous.
Could a woman be able to make misleading claims like Trump about the success of her business and get away with it? Trump trotted out a parade of products last night in an effort to refute Mitt Romney’s claim that many of Trump’s businesses had failed. Many of the products weren’t Trump’s at all. The example I am the most tickled by: the “Trump Steaks” he brought out were actually branded “Bush Brothers.” How’s that for a label?
2. Could a woman candidate get away with only style and no substance?
Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Trump is putting on a show. He even quotes poll numbers like they’re ratings. His show has enemies (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), frenemies (Chris Christie), and BFFs (Sarah Palin). And his show pulls in ratings, which is likely why networks were covering Trump’s speech last night instead of the Democratic primary.
Women get knocked if it seems like they’re putting spectacle over substance. Sarah Palin is a prime example.
Women candidates still need to provide more evidence than men of expertise. In other words, women must show their qualifications for executive office, whereas men can just talk about theirs (no fact checks required). It’s an example of a candidate’s male privilege to have the luxury of focusing on showmanship.
3. What would a woman be called if she spent her entire victory speech promoting self-branded products?
Voters give women candidates an advantage over male candidates when it comes to representing voters’ interests and having the right priorities. Women also have to continuously show how they will work for voters and get results for them.
If a woman candidate focused her speech on self-branded products, I can see phrases like “opportunistic,” “conniving,” and “she doesn’t understand what I’m going through” being thrown around. Not to mention the “A” word: ambitious. And would she be likeable? Of course not. We see those phrases with Trump too, but it doesn’t seem to matter: they don’t damage his political brand the same way they would damage a woman’s.
Trump seems to be the exception to the rules this political season. It’s not clear if other male candidates are able to get away with Trump’s tactics either. Marco Rubio has tried without success. What is clear is that a woman would never get away with ignoring the rules.