Those who thought that Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick was going to burn the the company haven’t really been paying attention to our political landscape.
As I’ve been saying for a while, we aren’t so much a polarized nation as much as we are a balkanized one: Different groups with vastly different interests still somehow cohabiting in the same space, almost like entirely different countries, at times, within the same borders. We’re the North American Yugoslavia.
That means this isn’t a zero-sum game, where one’s loss must always lead to another’s gain. Nike, for example, has a loyal and specific clientele that simply doesn’t include people like us as much as it includes people like them. This is similar to how Progressive America never saw the success of “American Sniper” coming. San Francisco wasn’t its intended audience. Little Rock was.
So when Nike celebrates Kaepernick like he has the power to heal if you touch the hem of his garment, the company really isn’t going to suffer the amount of backlash the pundits hoped for. Yes, there was a hiccup after the Nike campaign with Kaepernick was revealed and then roundly mocked for a solid week, but do you know what that did to the resolve of those who buy Nikes on a regular basis?
Nothing. Because they were born in Air Jordans, and by golly they are going to die in Air Jordans. They are loyal to the brand to a fault. And that, by the way, spells M-O-N-E-Y. Ten days after Nike’s share prices initially fell, they hit an all-time high.
This resembles the current state of our politics. Elections are won by turning out those who tend to vote for your tribe, which is a far smaller cross-section than targeting the American people at large. This means that to be successful, you need to be primarily successful with loyalists.
So when parties start talking about moderating their message to appeal to more voters, there is often a nodding of heads as if this sane and prudent. Actually, though, it is usually pretty much a bullet to the head. Your loyalists aren’t with you for the taste of vanilla. They want blood. That’s what Nike just gave its buyers, and they responded accordingly, according to Edison Trends, a digital commerce research company based in Silicon Valley, that showed online sales surged after Nike announced the deal with Kaepernick, and now its stock price is soaring as well. Courage of conviction, even the wrong kind, sells nowadays.
A group known across America as the Republicans might want to be taking notes right about, now unless they want to get slaughtered in November. The Nike/Kaepernick mantra, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” is actually a pill that I would love the GOP to swallow, even if it came with its own laugh track. Because ultimately, this is about what that “something” actually is and how much sacrifice there will really be. It has to be more than just the words.
There must be, goes the slogan, a “Just Do It” to the whole thing. If Nike is woke to Kaepernick and his audience, bingo. If the Republicans do nothing more than tweet mad rantings about hurricanes from the White House and pass omnibus bill after omnibus bill in Congress, less than bingo. Much, much less.
This isn’t complicated. GOP base voters are tired of never getting what they want. That’s why they turned to Trump, and that’s why they may just stay home this time. Because they don’t want a new brand. They want their old brand to take its recipe for New Coke and bury it in a deep grave.
But if somebody at long last actually starts fighting for them, voters will buy their metaphorical shoes, too, and in droves. Big, beautiful, butt-kicking shoes made in the factory known as American Exceptionalism. Try them on, GOP, or come November, you could get stepped on by those who are perfectly comfortable wearing them.