The Pew Research Center’s recent poll shows that Trump has the highest profile among possible GOP contenders, though he has always been one to get ratings points for showy performances with little substance. Whether Trump and other would-be GOP candidates drop the birther blather remains to be seen – since it seems to provide the daily supplement of red meat for critics of the President.
But one thing is sure: such rants will also serve to ignite the Democratic fundraising base.
Why? Those of us in the business of progressive nonprofit and political fundraising know that effective messaging requires a villain. And the Tea Party, town hall, ultra-conservative positions offered by many Republican office seekers provides the perfect fodder for direct response fundraising that transcends well beyond the core base of support. In 2010, for example, a would-be GOP candidate for the United States Senate decided to play the birther hand in an effort to gain ground on a long-standing Democrat incumbent and fire up his Maryland Tea Party base. And it proved effective – for the Democrat incumbent! Direct response fundraising messaging and tactics were strategically timed to capitalize on media interviews and statements – increasing key performance metrics of response rate, average gift size, and conversion.
Though we like to think that the most effective messaging to raise funds and build constituent lists comes from forward-thinking, tent-pole messaging such as clean energy and the environment, health care, jobs, education and fixing the gun background check system – we often find highlighting the far-right throwback agenda is equally, or even more effective, when integrated into the direct marketing contact strategy. During the 2012 cycle, for example, there will be tens of millions of pieces of mail, emails, and calls that will not hide that the Senate majority could be lost to ultra-conservative, Tea Party-backed candidates.
As New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez astutely stated to Politico earlier this month "You have to define yourself before someone else defines you, define your opponent before they define themselves and frame the debate of this election."
So Mr. Trump’s birther platform has clearly defined him, and in the process assured that the coffers of the Democratic Party will grow. And for that, I say, thank you.