This time last year, Donald J. Trump was still president, and entrepreneurs across the country were making money selling T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs and other merchandise associated with the Make America Great Again brand.
Trump is no longer president, but the Trump merch? It’s still going strong.
From gun shows to state fairs, the traveling booths and retail shops that proliferated during the 2020 campaign are still cheerily promoting the 45th president, even in the face of vandalism, prank calls and protests. And their wares have expanded to include slogans once used by Democrats.
T-shirts that show the face of Trump with the words “Miss me yet?” replicate ones that featured the face of Barack Obama four years ago. Hoodies that say “Biden is Not My President” and signs that proclaim “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Trump” are selling well, even in the blue states of New England.
Keith Lambert, owner of a Rhode Island-based novelty business, operated 22 retail stores that sold Trump merchandise in the months leading up to the election. He’s now scaled down to 3, in part because demand lessened after the election and he’s struggled to find staff to keep the shops open. But he’s found that the demand for MAGA-themed merchandise exists outside of an election cycle.
Similarly, retail Trump shops in other parts of the country, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are still operating and profitable.
The fair’s food and livestock draw large crowds yearly, but this year booths, like the one selling flags in favor of former President Donald Trump, are causing quite a reaction with some guests ridiculing the fair for allowing political merchandise.https://t.co/6VGV9MSE1G— Iowa's News Now (@iowasnewsnow) September 7, 2021
The continued demand for Trump merchandise is aided by the widespread belief among Republicans that Biden did not legitimately win. As recently as August, two-thirds of Republicans in a Yahoo News/YouGov poll said they believe the election was “rigged/stolen” from Trump. More than a quarter of independents also said they believe Trump won.
This accounts for the popularity of “Trump is Still My President” signs and T-shirts, and also for many supporters’ wish for a 2024 rematch.
The appetite for MAGA merchandise does not necessarily predict that Trump would win if he runs again. But even before the election, stores selling products related to a single politician were unprecedented. Their continued existence raise intriguing questions, including why aren’t there similar stores for Democrats?
‘Save America Again’
In 2020, most carnivals and state fairs were canceled because of the pandemic, stripping candidates of a traditional place to campaign and sell merchandise. But even without an election this year, a Trump shop operated at the Nebraska State Fair, sporting a sign that is increasingly popular: “Trump 2024, Save America Again!”
Local television stations reported that some fairgoers were upset about the booth, which, unlike booths for the Republican and Democratic parties, had a prominent place on the fairgrounds’ main street.
But other purveyors of Trump merchandise have had to deal with much worse than complaints. Last year, a Trump shop in Wisconsin was vandalized by someone who broke in and threw bleach on merchandise. And Michael Domanico, owner of The Trump Store near Philadelphia, said that someone calls the store every day and leaves a vulgar or offensive message, such as “Do you have Klan outfits in large?”
Jeremy Boyts, a Missouri businessman who operates a pop-up Trump store that moves across the country, said that the Trump name has become so divisive that he’s changing the name of his shop to “The Traveling Patriot,” largely in order to dodge social-media censors.
“Especially after Jan. 6, having Trump’s name on a physical location or Facebook page is no longer advantageous or safe,” Boyts said. He said that Facebook is not allowing merchants to “boost” a post (meaning, to pay for increased promotion) that contains the word “Trump.” Other conservative business owners, including the CEO of the satirical website The Babylon Bee, have also accused the company of unfairly restricting or blocking their content.
A Facebook representative said the company now has an authorization process that people must go through before they are allowed to boost posts or run other types of ads about a political figure or election. She also pointed to Facebook’s 2020 announcement that the company would allow users to restrict ads related to political or social issues.
Domanico, owner of The Trump Store in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, still operates a Facebook page in conjunction with his retail store, where his products include T-shirts that say “Trump/DeSantis 2024” and “Impeach Biden,” as well as a Terminator-style sketch of Trump with the words “I’ll Be Back!”
Privately, some Trump supporters are saying that they hope he will not run in 2024 and that he will instead support a candidate who will promote his policies and vision. Some others are hesitant to start waving the Trump 2024 flag for fear of offending the eventual nominee if Trump decides not to run.
“Trump 2024 is not selling like it should be,” Boyts said. “One of my biggest supporters in Oklahoma won’t even let me set up on his property right now, because, in his words, we don’t know if Trump’s going to be the candidate yet. He’s very well known in the community, and he just wants to back the Republican. ... I think a lot of people are holding out.”
But there are plenty of ways to sell to MAGA supporters that don’t reference an election three years away.
Pro-gun merchandise is reliably popular with Trump supporters, making gun shows a destination for pop-up Trump shops, vendors said. Biden’s recent struggles, especially in Afghanistan, have caused a surge in demand for anti-Biden shirts, as well as pro-military and pro-police merchandise. Products with slogans that highlight controversy over COVID-19 — such as “Unmask our children” and “My body, my choice” — are also selling well, Lambert said.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, “Be a Good Little Sheep and Wear Your Mask” shirts are selling so well that Seth Hansen, owner of The Trump Store there, has ordered new shirts with the slogan “Do Not Comply.”
Hansen, who is co-owner of roofing company that specializes in storm damage, said the Trump store was a godsend during the pandemic, when his roofing company lost business because of COVID-19. Sales of Trump merchandise declined after the election, but the store is still profitable, so much that he’s looking for a second location.
“I could support my whole family with this except for the censorship I get,” Hansen said, saying that his online sales have been affected by temporary shutdowns by Facebook, TikTok and Shopify.
A dearth of Biden merch
Todd L. Belt, director of the political management program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told the Deseret News in 2019 that he’s never seen any other type of political merchandise take off the way Trump’s MAGA hats did. The expansion of Trump merchandise to the point where retails shops are profitable can be explained, in part, by what Belt called “the performance of identity.”
“Showing other people which side you’re on has become more magnified lately. And that’s part of the hyperpartisan landscape we’re in,” he said.
But on social media, people have noticed that there seems to be no equivalent business opportunity for Democrats or liberals.
Biden merchandise is available on the online White House gift shop and is made by private sellers at online shops like Zazzle and Etsy, but there are no traveling Biden shops — at least none that are getting any publicity. A Google search for “Biden pop-up shop” yields a Facebook page for a table in Tennessee where people were selling Biden buttons, signs and bumperstickers. Eleven people had responded to the post.
That said, the popularity of Trump merchandise doesn’t necessarily correspond with electoral college votes.
Last year, Boyts said, a local reporter asked him who he thought would win the election. “I said I bet every dollar that Trump will win because I don’t get calls from people wanting to buy Joe Biden stuff. You would have thought ... but that’s not how it played out.”