Politics

Donald Trump Can Get Away With It, But You Can't

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A few years ago, the owner of a popular diner near me decided to run for our local township’s board of commissioners. It’s an important and visible position in the community. But there was a problem. He was a Republican.

Not that being a Republican is such a problem. At least not in many places. But where I live -- well, it’s kind of a problem. The great majority of my community, which is populated heavily by academics, educators and union members, is somewhere to the left of Karl Marx. There are few Republicans around and the ones that are pretty much keep a low profile. Also, there were no Republicans on the township’s board at the time. But the diner owner wanted to be on the board. What the hell was he thinking?

He was thinking all the right things. He wanted to serve his community. He had a successful business and a desire to give back. He had an urge to participate in the political process and make small improvements to the world. But he also has his views.

Related: Why Businesses Should Think Twice About Getting Involved in Political Issues

For example, he is against abortion. He is a member of the NRA. He is a strong proponent of a smaller local government and supports cuts to certain popular programs and caps on entitlements to township employees to keep the budget in balance. He supports prayers in school.

And, brace yourself, he enjoys listening to Rush Limbaugh. I know, it’s pretty insane stuff. These are controversial issues. Yet the diner owner still chose to insert himself in the middle of them by running for office in a heavily Democrat area. Again, what the hell was he thinking?

More important, what happened to his business?

The diner suffered. The more the owner appeared in the local news, the more photos of him were plastered around town, the more he spoke and shared his political and personal views with the community and the more his customers got to know him, the more of them he alienated.

“I would never eat at this place again,” a friend of my wife’s said to her while tucking into her double cheeseburger at the diner. “I could never support a man with such a horrific and insane point of view of the world.”

That friend was Barbara Streisand. OK, just kidding, it wasn’t. But the friend (if you have haven’t figured it out yet) was a Democrat and she wasn’t kidding. She wasn’t going back to the diner. She would get her double cheeseburgers somewhere else.

Related: Build Your Brand by Cultivating Controversy

As you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking of Donald Trump’s current presidential run. And you should, because I thought about the diner owner when Trump announced his candidacy. Trump is out there, everywhere, sharing his controversial, outlandish and often abrasive views of the world with anyone who will listen. And lots of people are. Is Donald Trump hurting his business by being so controversial? Is the diner owner?

In both cases, yes. There are some people who may never do business with Donald Trump again after some of the things he’s said. Yet there are others that may be more drawn to him through their shared opinions. Regardless, he’s taking a big chance. But he’s a multi-billionaire, and few are worrying about whether he’ll have a roof over his head after the elections are over.

Unfortunately, the diner owner is not Donald Trump. He is not a multi-billionaire. He is also taking a chance. He is also taking risks. By sharing his views of the world with the public he’s alienating some of his customer base and may suffer financially.

In the end, the diner owner lost the local election to his Democrat opponent. But he’s still very active in the community and vocal in his opinions. Lots of successful business owners reach a point in their lives when they too want to run for political office. They want to give back to their communities and to their country. You may want to do the same. This means that you’ll have to be controversial, have opinions and take sides.

You don’t have to be abrasive as Donald Trump, but you may still lose customers because of this decision. How much loss can your business absorb? That’s the most controversial question of them all.

I’m sure the diner owner lost some business because of this. But, at least from my observations, he hasn’t seemed to have suffered significantly. And I could’ve sworn that I saw my wife’s friend eating a double cheeseburger there recently, but that person was sitting far in the back, wearing sunglasses and a hat.

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