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Why Donald Trump’s choice for VP just damaged his brand

CNN’s Dana Bash reported that even several hours after Donald Trump had offered the Vice Presidential nomination to Mike Pence, he asked his advisors if it was too late to change his mind. Mr. Trump was right to second guess his choice of Pence, and the decision may ultimately doom his campaign.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Mr. Trump made a wise decision in selecting Mr. Pence. After all, the Indiana Governor is very popular amongst the Republican establishment and could very well help unite the party going into their national convention this week in Cleveland.

Mr. Pence appeals to the social conservatives who backed Ted Cruz during the primary season (in fact, Pence endorsed Cruz over Trump in the Indiana primary in May), and have until now doubted Trump’s commitment to conservative values. Furthermore, Pence has the support of influential financial backers like the Koch brothers, who until now have been reluctant to contribute to the Trump campaign.

But Mr. Trump is not a conventional candidate, and therefore conventional rules should not have been applied when selecting his running mate. Instead, Donald Trump is a brand. And therefore, brand rules should have applied.

There are two essential elements for building a strong brand: clarity and consistency. Love him or hate him, you know what Donald Trump stands for…or at least you did prior to the selection of Mike Pence muddying the water.

  • Trump has run as an anti-establishment candidate. Pence, however, has been in politics for most of his adult life.

  • Trump has claimed to be a true friend of the LGBT community. Pence, on the other hand, signed the “religious freedom” bill which allowed businesses in Indiana to discriminate against LGBT customers.

  • Trump, a self-described “common-sense” conservative, has praised the accomplishments of Planned Parenthood. Pence, by contrast, is a staunch conservative who has repeatedly tried to strip its funding.

  • Trump has repeatedly called for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Pence, however, had said in response, “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the US are offensive and unconstitutional.”

  • Trump has strongly been opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Pence, by contrast, has urged the swift adoption of the TPP.

  • Trump has voiced strong opposition to the war in Iraq, whereas Pence voted for it.

Branding 101 teaches us that you can’t be all things to all people. Much of the process of branding is deciding what your brand stands for and, perhaps more importantly, what it doesn’t stand for. Throughout the primary season, millions of voters were drawn to Trump’s clear and consistent message. Now, those same voters won’t be sure what Trump truly stands for.

Surely the spin from Cleveland this week will be about party unity. Trump, however, would have been much better off selecting a running mate who truly was aligned with his own views.

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