Donald Trump's "Muslim Ban" is a Huge Branding Mistake

01/30/2017 02:15 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2017

President Trump’s team does not like the moniker “Muslim Ban”. Aides and spokespeople have been vigorously protesting that Friday’s recently signed executive order placing a stay on travel and immigration from seven countries is not a “Muslim Ban”.

Sunday afternoon, Trump released his own statement. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” he said. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

Trump Marketed a “Muslim Ban” for Over a Year

However, Trump himself created the nickname “Muslim Ban” for the recent executive order titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. (Full text is available here.) And at the time, he threw all the energy and power of his supposed branding acumen into pushing it out to the American people.

As you can see from the photo above, which is a screen capture of a press release that (as of this writing) is still posted on the Trump-Pence campaign website, Trump himself called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims”. (Highlights added.) He also emphasized this statement by reading it aloud at a rally in South Carolina. He read it slowly and loudly, then paused for cheers, adding, “We have no choice! We have no choice.”

At the time, Trump was also calling for surveillance against mosques and made a few waffling claims that he was open to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the U.S. When asked by NBC, on camera, about the database concept after a November 2015 town hall meeting, Trump responded emphatically, "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely."

Trump enjoyed support for his promises from his core voters, who felt that there was no vetting of Muslims entering the U.S. (not true), and some even endorse his suggestion to “take out” the families of terrorists.

Giulani Suggests Order is a Legally Washed “Muslim Ban”

More recently, Rudy Giulani claimed on Fox News that he was the one responsible for steering Donald Trump away from using the term “Muslim Ban” and suggested focusing on territories instead. “I'll tell you the whole history of it,” Giuliani said. “When [Trump] first announced it, he said, 'Muslim ban.' He called me up. He said, 'Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.' "

If Giulani’s account is correct, then Trump was simply looking for a “legal” way to enact what he has referred to for over a year as a “Muslim Ban”.

Trump Administration Starts Term by Micro-Managing Departments

The new executive order is also a human resources and organization faux pas. In the press release summarizing the order, which is published on the Department of Homeland Security website, the Administration explains:

In the first 30 days, DHS will perform a global country-by-country review of the information each country provides when their citizens apply for a U.S. visa or immigration benefit. Countries will then have 60 days to comply with any requests from the U.S. government to update or improve the quality of the information they provide.

In an alternative universe, the President could simply have asked his new head of DHS, Gen. John Kelly, who was confirmed in his appointment a week earlier, to conduct a country-by-country review and get back to him with suggestions (if any) for improving the vetting process. Improvements might then be lauded in a quiet press release ensuring the American people that steps are being taken and that the President always has your back. This process, however, would not guarantee a media camera presence, leather-bound orders and fresh pens for every signature.

The New York Times reported that Gen. Kelly called the White House from a Coast Guard plane to ask for clarification on the pending order, but was told by an aide, “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,.” NYT also reports that airport staff were informed of the order at 3 am Sunday and that people arriving to work later in the morning had not been briefed. The resulting chaos caused hundreds of people to be detained, family members were separated, and valid green card holders were turned away after years of vetting and waiting.

The order is also an alarming indication that Trump may feel he either has to, or is empowered to, micro-manage a four-star general and head of DHS, by commanding him through executive orders to perform basic tasks that any new executive would set out to do. If this is going to be Trump’s style of management, he’d better pick up the pace or by the time he gets down to the Department of Agriculture, we’ll all be going hungry.

The press release uses the same language in reference to The Refugee Admissions Program, which it states “will be temporarily suspended for the next 120 days while DHS and interagency partners review screening procedures ...” Again, this is not a significant change—in fact it’s not a change at all—and this is a task that could and should have been handed off to new and existing staff without fanfare.

When you take all these factors into consideration, it’s clear that a) Trump’s earlier energetic branding is now an administrative albatross, b) the unnecessary immediacy of the order created departmental chaos which trickled down to airports and caused real humans anguish and humiliation and c) the grandstanding nature of the order reveals that Trump is either a poseur who truly doesn’t understand how to manage resources—or he is a micro-manager who expects to yank his Cabinet’s strings on a daily basis.

Hilarity Ensues at NASA, EPA, NIH, USDA, Interior

The Trump Administration also over-reacted to social media posts earlier this month and placed an immediate gag order on the Department of Interior’s Twitter accounts. The gag order came after Park Service employees retweeted photos of the President’s low inauguration attendance.

Although some people argue that new administrations routinely shut down communications during transitions, the Dept. of Interior gag order, which specifically targeted Twitter, caused even functional public safety channels like road conditions and emergency alerts to go offline.

Since partisan comments are not permitted by employees, this action could—and arguably should—have been handled with a local reprimand.

The furor created by gag orders issued to several departments in the meantime, have resulted in a slew of rogue social media accounts created by employees of the Park Service, NASA, USDA, NIH, EPA and the National Weather Service. While it’s not clear whether these accounts actually represent employees, the new administration could have avoided all this embarrassment by simply adhering to organizational etiquette norms that any new, yet experienced CEO would typically embrace.

Making a Big Mistake Bigger?

Trump’s “Muslim Ban” has been criticized for not including any of the Muslim-populated countries from which the 9/11 terrorism suspects hailed. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists involved in 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. The others were from Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon.

Critics have pointed out that some of these countries, like Saudi Arabia, are places where Trump owns hotels or has business contracts. In fact, President Trump registered eight new companies in Saudi Arabia during his presidential campaign, four of which appear to be tied to a single hotel project in Jeddah, Saudi’s second largest city.

When this was brought up by Chuck Todd at NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Reince Priebus handled it deftly by saying, “You bring up a good point. Perhaps other countries needed to be added to an executive order going forward.”

Let’s hope that someone experienced in international diplomacy reviews this suggestion before the current administration takes action, as it could lead to severe consequences for financial markets, U.S. businesses, and troops stationed overseas.

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