Column: On the pursuit of branding, by way of presidential candidacy


In this Nov. 6, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before attending a Black Republican Caucus of South Florida event benefiting the group’s scholarship fund in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Alan Diaz, File/AP)

Yesterday, fellow Daily Campus columnist Brian McCarty wrote that Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is an ill-fit choice for the Republican nomination

McCarty’s argument focused on what he calls Carsons’s vapid policies, such as a “tithing” flat income tax at 10 percent, which would leave the government with a 1.1 trillion dollar deficit.

Of course I agree with McCarty’s position. Carson has no political experience whatsoever. The fact that he and Donald Trump – as McCarty iterates – share almost half the polling Republican vote is wholly astounding and terrifying. While I certainly empathize with constituents who are fed up with politicians, I have an inkling someone with no actual understanding on the infrastructures of Washington and abroad will serve the United States any better.

I’d also like to think I’m not politically aligned with the Ku Klux Klan, who confirmed their endorsement for Carson three months ago – nothing like good irony.

But what I want to talk about is the massive exercise in advertising a personal brand that running a presidential campaign truly is, and I believe Ben Carson is doing this right now.

What is he selling? The Ben Carson story. It’s a good one, the classic Horatio Alger-esque, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps type.

In condensed form, Carson was born to a young, poor single mother and grew up in Detroit. Through perseverance, embracing Christian faith and doing well in school, he eventually pursued the medical path and became a leading neurosurgeon, doing things to the extent of separating conjoined twins.

This yarn involves hardship, is engaging and perfect for Republicans seeking to tell the African American community, “If Ben Carson made it out doing these things, you can too!” A movie adaptation for his life story, Gifted Hands, was released in 2009. It’s a great niche, and he has milked it awhile, being the author of six bestselling books. His most recent book was released this year, with Carson hybridizing his campaign with a book tour.

Carson is succeeding tremendously in his book sales, too. As of July, Carson has sold more with his book “One Nation” than every book each presidential candidate released since 2010 combined, with 362,813 copies for him and 252,177 for everyone else. It appears voters favor his autobiographical transparency.

Carson’s not the only one, though. One may say that Trump, while losing partnerships like Macy’s and NBC in the wake of xenophobic comments at his presidential announcement, is certainly compensating in other ways. Trump, too, is on a book tour, with Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again hitting shelves last week. Inside is essentially a blueprint for Trump’s policies, but you can buy it from him. It’s genius.

Presidential candidates have also gone off to successful television stints following their attempts at office, including former Arkansas governor and realistically twice-failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. After his 2007 bid, Fox News picked him up for a TV show, Huckabee, which ran from 2008 to this past January. Huckabee received $500,000 a year for the program. Losing actually helped his career.

Considering all the swiping at the Right I’ve been doing, it’s worth noting that in 1995, Obama released his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” to coincide with his run for the Illinois Senate. He and Carson are very much cut from the same cloth in this regard, using gripping personal details to ensnare voters in their myths. But is it right that a person going around soliciting money with incessant fundraisers is also trying to doubly cash in with lucrative book deals?

I’m not saying candidates should be forbidden from writing books or reaping the benefits of their notoriety, but I find the practice somewhat manipulative. People don’t have to buy the content either, but nevertheless, the marketing angle is brilliant: the consumer can observe the presidential hopeful on the debate podium or C-SPAN (the latter more pertaining to the Senators running), but here is this profound side affair, one that really explains the candidate’s origins. If you give him or her money to read about it, then you can truly see where they’re coming from, and then you can donate more money to their campaign at one of their fundraisers.

Although presidential campaigns are egregiously expensive affairs, the subliminal manipulation of the media these candidates foster is no better.

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