Published February 16, 2010
I’m not someone who thinks former Vice President Dick Cheney was the villain many in the press have painted him as. In fact, I think history may very well vindicate many of the things that the Bush administration did in fighting a very difficult enemy.
But I’m not here to talk history, I’m here to talk marketing and, specifically, why it’s a very bad idea for Dick Cheney to keep putting himself in the spotlight if the Republicans want a chance to regain power anytime soon.
To put it bluntly and with all due respect, Vice President Cheney needs to let someone else do the talking. Dick Cheney must get off stage now. Certain brands will never make a comeback.
President Bush seems to understand the importance of exiting the stage and then staying off of it. He knows that, fairly or unfairly, his brand’s time has passed and does not add value to the quest to restore the Republicans to power.
History and re-evaluation might change people’s opinions in the long run, but the only opinions that count right now are the voters’ and, anyone being honest about that market, knows that the Bush-Cheney legacy is perceived in many circles as profoundly toxic. This legacy alienates wide-swathes of the electorate and that is no good for a party that needs those numbers to stand a chance.
One anecdotal “test” that shows just how deep these feelings go is that the Bush-Cheney legacy is not socially-defensible. In other words, even those centrist and right-leaning often feel uncomfortable trying to speak up for the former administration in mixed political company.
Every time Vice President Cheney opens his mouth, he gets the inevitable headline. In terms of drawing the nation’s attention to gaps in our defense this may be good, but it also draws the nation’s attention away from the kind of promising Republican, pro-defense figures who should be rising in stature for a future presidential run.
Every time Dick Cheney takes a strong policy position this has the effect of anchoring the Republican party to the previous, negatively-impaired, administration.
The Republicans cannot simply be the party of the negative opposition now (i.e., saying they were right all along and that rejecting all Obama initiatives is the right thing to do). For the Republicans to win they need to embrace a positive, forward-looking and ultimately hopeful platform that rebuts the agenda put forth by President Obama and the Democrats without being merely rejectionist.
With a wagon load of negative brand baggage, Vice President Cheney will not be able to achieve this. In a way, Cheney has found himself in the Kissinger, post-Vietnam dilemma. He is an exceptional man with perhaps more foreign policy experience than almost anyone, but one whose public performance poisons his party’s nationwide agenda. Kissinger skillfully navigated these waters (but it took a lot of time) until he could once again be publicly tapped for his gifts.
If the Republicans want to move forward and the former vice president wants this too, he should take a page from this playbook. He can begin working behind the scenes to help ensure that our defense is secure and that the best candidate to lead the Republican party can emerge without a shadow. He can lend his wisdom and tactical brilliance to the cause, but must step away from the podium now.
It’s natural for the party faithful to want to honor and support the former vice president, but they must begin to recognize that his public actions are hurting the party. For the Republican Party to be successful nationwide, it needs to expand its Target Market (i.e., those people for whom Cheney is not necessarily a negative) by reaching out to independents and even moderate Democrats for whom Cheney and Bush are old and bad news.
And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and the founder and president of Marketing Department of America. His book, “People Buy Brands Not Companies”, is being published in February.
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