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What the GOP can learn from Donald Trump

Despite some, well, interesting commentary, Donald Trump maintains an early but large lead in the GOP polls, ensuring that the 2016 primary debate season will at least be entertaining. While many from the media and from the party itself are downplaying him and his candidacy, the reality is that numbers show there is a legitimate interest in Trump — or at least what he has to say. Instead of dismissing him, the GOP should be asking why Trump is so popular and learning from that.

Donald Trump
Jim Young | Reuters
Donald Trump

Here is some of what's behind Trump's popularity and what the GOP should be taking away in redefining their brand and their stand.

Enough with politicians

Many Americans have realized that politics has become an ugly game in this country where those who are supposed to represent us aren't fiduciaries working on our best interests. With that landscape, people are looking for any candidate who can't be bought off or isn't beholden to some group or groups because they need the campaign financing. This is part of what Trump symbolizes to them.

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On the politician scale, all of the GOP candidates vary from "very much a politician" to "look up politician in the dictionary and find a picture of that guy." Even Carly Fiorina, the only other business candidate, has been trading more on political rhetoric than economic policy and advancement.

If we want government to change, which many of us do, we need to get rid of the politicians and need to recruit more leaders from other arenas.

Enough with political correctness

Many Americans are also done with political correctness. Virtually anything that you can say or do these days will end up offending someone or some group. The P.C. police seem to think that being offended is some type of civil-right violation, which leads to too many not being willing to say anything at all.

For a country that loves the concept of free speech, this political correctness has become tiresome, aggravating and in some cases, downright scary.

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Trump, despite the language in which he often communicates, gets points for not being worried about offending anyone. He says what he thinks — and, apparently, what is on the mind of many — even if it's done in an inelegant or downright gruff manner. It is the willingness to say things the way that he sees them and not having to caveat, water down or dance around his take that is appealing to many.

The bottom line is that there remains a large contingent of Americans who want candidates that are being honest, not being political. Even if they disagree with the stance of the honesty, many Americans are over the headline that doesn't match the actions of the political beings who claim to represent "we the people."

Now, what Trump could learn (and should be part of the takeaway) is that instead of just going after policy and ideology, he crosses the line by going after people personally. This will likely be his albatross and takes the non-PC, speak-your-mind benefit too far.

Stop being a wussy

Our nation, once a great superpower, has been weakened by bad leadership with equally bad decisions for years. You can just take one look at the Iran Deal that the president is touting as an accomplishment, where we, in a position of negotiating power, gave up sanctions and more for a big goose egg to see that we have gone soft.

It has trickled down from the leadership into the zeitgeist. That softness hasn’t been good for the country and many want to restore our tough edge. People want the type of leader who won’t swap Taliban terrorists for a believed deserter, who will enforce laws already on the books and who will hold the philosophy of “go all in or don’t go in at all.”

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Trump represents this type of toughness and no backing down attitude that many think is being extracted from the foundation of America.


Pop culture branding works

Even if you dislike Mr. Trump, you cannot deny that he is a master brander. He's on TV; he sells products. He has his name prominently displayed on the sides of buildings in major cities, even making the Chicago River skyline appear gauche. But, alas, he has become a part of popular culture and that gives him extra power and notoriety, which gets him media coverage, eyeballs and in many cases, admiration.

It's a reality of America that star power sells. And it's not a new phenomenon. It's pretty much the only explanation for Jesse Ventura being elected a governor.

The GOP candidates are typically desperately lacking any cachet or pop-culture cred and the party desperately needs to "Trump it up." They need to be building up their — and their candidates' — branding outside of the political sphere, preferably long before any individual runs for a major office.

They may not need to take Mr. Trump as their candidate, but the GOP should take a lesson from him. If the GOP wants to win in years to come, it needs to be fostering candidates outside of the political system. It should be looking for candidates who can — and will —tell it like it is. The party should be sponsoring, or at least fostering, these individuals' pop-culture cred to give America the candidate that it wants and it needs.

Commentary by Carol Roth, a "recovering" investment banker (corporate finance), entrepreneur/small-business owner, investor and author of "The Entrepreneur Equation." Follow her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth.