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The Art of the (Merch) Deal

The Trump campaign has made merchandise clever - and fun - again.

Let’s face it – campaign merchandise can often be boring. Shirts, signs, stickers…all with the same logo or some variation thereof. It can be refreshing when campaigns change it up and create merchandise that it different and fun.

Enter the Trump 2020 campaign. Not only has he done pretty much everything differently in office, but his campaign has also turned the merchandise game on its ear with some genuinely outside-the-box items.

This time around, it’s more than just the red MAGA hats that trigger liberals everywhere. You can find all kinds of Trump 2020 merchandise that takes advantage of the headlines.

Politico recounts how Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale’s bad experience with a paper straw (there, but for the grace of God, go all of us) birthed the idea of the wildly successful Trump plastic reusable straws and more:

The ploy was part of a strategy to stoke and validate the grievances of Trump’s base — and then turn them into hard cash. The effort centers around novelty merchandise items the reelection campaign has been hawking on its website, including “Pencil-Neck Adam Schiff” T-shirts lampooning the Democratic congressman and Trump antagonist as a clown; “I Spy Trump” tees and tanks depicting the commander-in-chief being snooped on by former President Barack Obama; and, most recently, the plastic straws. The Trump 2020 online store has marketed the offering as an alternative to the more environmentally-friendly “liberal paper straws” that “don’t work.”

Clearly, the campaign isn’t afraid to milk modern controversies for laughs and lucre. The straws have been a particularly good seller, raking in over $456,000 in just over a week. The runaway success of the straws is even causing Democrats to sit up and take notice.

“I think something Trump has always understood very clearly is how to tap into a cultural moment or zeitgeist and leverage it to his advantage,” said Tara McGowan, a top Democratic digital strategist who served on a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC during the 2016 campaign and has been active in the climate change movement. “So for him, taking a relatively new thing in the world that most people hate (paper straws) and leveraging it to both make a political statement and raise [hundreds of thousands] of dollars by selling plastic straws is both brilliant and sinister.”

Trump’s not the only one who is seizing on controversy to both bring in the donations and create the next generation of collectors’ items. The Kamala Harris campaign raked in cash from the sales of shirts that play off of Joe Biden’s attacks on Harris over busing, and plenty of other organizations like the National Republican Senatorial Committee have capitalized on the Nike-Betsy Ross flag controversy.

The lesson that the Trump campaign is teaching other candidates is that your merchandise doesn’t have to be vanilla, and it doesn’t hurt to take advantage of the “red meat” issues that your supporters care about. Who knows? Maybe other politicians will take the president’s lead in making campaign merch great again.

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