This marketing theory explains why Trump maintains a relentless ‘stranglehold’ on Republicans: conservative

This marketing theory explains why Trump maintains a relentless ‘stranglehold’ on Republicans: conservative
Photo via the White House.

Although President-elect Joe Biden has 306 electoral votes and is ahead of President Donald Trump by at least 5.8 million in the popular vote, most Republicans in Congress still refuse to publicly acknowledge that he lost the election. Conservative David Shaywitz, in an article published by The Bulwark on November 19, uses a marketing theory to explain why Trump has maintained such a "stranglehold" on the GOP — and that theory is called "identity loyalty."

"Trump's stranglehold on the Republican Party stems directly from the remarkable connection he's forged with his base," explains Shaywitz, who is a physician/scientist and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "This affinity stems not from Trump's astute choice of intellectually resonant issues, but rather, from the way he made his supporters feel — it's the emotions he elicits that drive his popularity."

The term "identity loyalty," Shaywitz notes, was coined by Americus Reed, who teaches marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Reed has described "identity loyalty" as a "marketing utopia" in which consumers develop a deep emotional connection with "a brand you fervently believe in, a brand you use to express yourself, and one you would recommend to friends." According to Reed, "identity loyalty" occurs "when a product, service, organization or person is internalized as part of a consumer's sense of who they are."

Reed generally uses the term "marketing loyalty" in connection with business, but he told Shaywitz that in the case of Trump, it also applies to politics. According to Reed, "Trump's skill is really creating identity loyalty in his rhetoric and branding/symbols."

Founded by Never Trump conservatives Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol, The Bulwark has been a consistent source of Trump-bashing from the right. The point of Shaywitz' article is not to defend Trump or his MAGA base — Shaywitz, in fact, writes that the U.S. "dodged a bullet" when Trump was voted out of office — but rather, to explain the hold the outgoing president still has over his party despite losing the election. Shaywitz explains that with "identity loyalty," criticism of a product or brand can make some people even more devoted to it — and he argues, in essence, that Trump's loss to Biden has only strengthened his bond with his MAGA base.


"Identity loyalty is bulletproof." Shaywitz stresses. " And more, attempts to dislodge it often have the perverse effect of intensifying the follower's connection to the brand. This business school theory is uncannily — actually, exactly — what we've seen with the Trump phenomenon. This all happens because, as Reed explains, the appeal to the target consumers is fundamentally emotional in a way that's completely intertwined with their identity."

Reed told Shaywitz that with identity loyalty, "Feelings rule the day, and data takes a back seat."

Shaywitz poses the question, "What does this mean for Republicans going forward?" And he answers his own question, saying, "First, it means that anyone trying to recreate the Trump magic by emulating his policies is likely to come up short because those issues are largely beside the point. Second, Trump's relationship with his target market — and thus his influence — is likely to persist after he leaves office…. Third, the fact that Trump lost means that it is possible his influence could wane over time — but the attrition is likely to be measured in years, not months, as the attention of his loyal base becomes gradually diluted over time."

Shaywitz concludes his article by hoping that the United States will be able to "heal" from the divisiveness of the Trump era after Biden is sworn into office in January.

"We are ready — more than ready — to heal together," Shaywitz writes. "The question is whether Joe Biden — or some other leader — can articulate this shared vision in a compelling, salient, emotionally resonant fashion that pierces partisan division, speaks to our common needs, and connects with our better natures. Without leadership that activates us emotionally and elevates us collectively, we risk being rendered further asunder. And 2024 is just around the corner."

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