WASHINGTON — The message the president is selling to his supporters is clear.
“You don’t have any choice. You have to vote for me,” President Trump told a crowd on Monday at a rally in North Carolina, making a point he has revisited often in recent weeks. “Your way of life is under assault by these people.”
Now, would they like a straw with that?
It turns out that Mr. Trump’s message of outright defiance — against Democrats, against the news media and, often, against facts — can exist in tchotchke form. The president’s campaign, which is relying on small-dollar donors to bolster his re-election effort, is also courting supporters willing to pay a little bit more for reminders of that message.
And the campaign has been creative in quickly bringing to market a range of products memorializing the president’s latest run-in — defiance as lifestyle.
In July, for example, plastic Trump drinking straws were created to hit back at the growing movement, most noticeably at large coffee and fast food chains, that has called for environment-friendly alternatives to plastic straws. The Trump campaign says its straws are in fact recyclable — “Liberal paper straws don’t work,” was the pitch.
Siphoning Twitter rage over the straws created a revenue stream. According to data shared by Trump campaign officials this week, almost 55,000 packs of straws have been sold, netting over $823,000 in sales. More than a third of the people who bought the items had never donated to the campaign before that purchase, according to Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s communications director.
Last week, a tweetstorm broke out after the president was photographed with a map showing the path of Hurricane Dorian with a hard-to-miss black line that appeared to have been drawn to extend the storm’s possible path into Alabama after he had insisted he had been right in predicting the storm, at one point, was headed to the state.
Mr. Trump said he did not know who had doctored the map with a Sharpie, but that did not stop the campaign from selling something new — markers with Mr. Trump’s autograph on them. As it became clear that administration officials, if not the president, had altered a scientific document, campaign officials tried to direct attention not to the administration’s mistake but to the fact that it was being heavily covered by the news media.
“Buy the official Trump marker, which is different than every other marker on the market, because this one has the special ability to drive @CNN and the rest of the fake news crazy!” tweeted Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager.
This week, The New York Times revealed that Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, had threatened to fire employees at a federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts as Mr. Trump grew angry over the coverage around his Alabama tweets.
But the markers do not appear to have the same appeal the straws did, having sold only about $50,000 worth, according to Mr. Murtaugh. Mr. Parscale initially said they had been selling by the “hundreds.”
While drinking straws and black markers are churned out the speed of a Twitter news cycle, that is nothing compared with the new varieties of T-shirts that go on the market after Mr. Trump tangles with a Democratic congressman or prominent journalist.
For $34, fans can buy a recent model lampooning the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo for unleashing a profanity-laced tirade on a pair of men who called him “Fredo,” a reference to the incompetent son of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather.” The shirt is meant to mock Mr. Cuomo’s assertion that the moniker was a slur against Italians.
The “Fredo” shirt displays the campaign’s omnipresent phone number to sign up and receive texts. The campaign closely monitors text sign-ups around each effort, and the results seem to have emboldened officials.
The seemingly unending product line has raised questions about who is hatching the ideas and who is creating the merchandise. Everything officially manufactured by the Trump campaign is American-made, Mr. Murtaugh said in an email.
Most of the merchandise requests are routed through a company called Ace Specialties in Lafayette, La., whose owner, Christl Mahfouz, can often be seen mingling with fans outside Trump rallies. Her team sells hats in exchange for money and the buyer’s voting data: Each time a supporter buys a T-shirt or a hat at a rally, a digital interface prompts them to turn over their names, addresses and other voter-specific information for future Federal Election Commission reports.
Publicly, at least, all credit goes to the president.
“President Trump is a master of communication and branding, and his campaign merchandise is emblematic of that,” Mr. Murtaugh said. “It gives people a little ownership of the re-election campaign and gives them high-quality merchandise in exchange for their donations.”
Mr. Parscale has privately taken credit for some of the more incendiary items, including the straws and the “Fredo Unhinged” T-shirt.
The attention, good and bad, just adds up to more money for Mr. Trump, Jennifer Wingard, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Houston, said in an interview. Ms. Wingard said that in some ways, Mr. Trump understood the very basics of social media influencer culture long before the Kardashians (or the Caroline Calloways) of the world did.
“His obsession with popularity,” Ms. Wingard said, “speaks to the social media influencing mind-set that most politicians don’t have.”
Internally, the commodification of the president’s trollish insults, no matter how un-politically correct, are a point of pride: A Pencil Neck illustration — a crude depiction of Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, based on a name Mr. Trump called him in a tweet — hangs in the kitchen of the campaign’s headquarters in suburban Virginia.
In some cases, it is not always clear that Mr. Trump understands the nuances of each smaller battle waged on his behalf. When asked if he supported the banning of plastic straws in July, the president said the public had bigger things to worry about before delivering an answer that ultimately did not match the fiery language used by his campaign.
“You know, it’s interesting about plastic straws,” he said. “So, you have a little straw. But what about the plates, the wrappers and everything else that are much bigger and they’re made of the same material? So the straws are interesting. Everybody focuses on the straws. There’s a lot of other things to focus. But it’s an interesting question.”
A rallygoer on Monday in Fayettville.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
Mr. Trump may not be interested in the merits of debating the material composition of a straw, but he does instinctively understand the monetary value of slapping his name on one. Officials throughout his campaign are hypervigilant at trying to make sure that only officially sanctioned merchandise is showcased in campaign materials that he might see.
At campaign rallies, supporters are not invited to participate in pro-Trump videos unless they are wearing the official red “Make America Great Again” hat. Campaign aides even scan the crowds for green under the bill of the hat, a telltale sign that a product has been bought through official channels.
Ms. Wingard said that a person’s desire to buy a pack of straws or a red hat reflects the work of a campaign trying to monetize everything from heated cultural battles to consequential presidential mistakes, and a president who instinctively understands that a lot of attention — negative or otherwise — translates to money.
“He can get bad press, people can make fun of him,” Ms. Wingard said, “but the Sharpie campaign shows very flat out that it doesn’t matter. He’s going to make money off of it.”
Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com