Mugs, T-shirts and merch: Donald Trump takes advantage of historic mugshot

Political campaign, allies and critics share mugshot in memes

Former US president Donald Trump arrives in Atlanta to be booked for alleged crimes. AP
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For most people, a police mugshot would be a badge of dishonour they would do anything to erase, but for Donald Trump, it is a branding opportunity and political weapon.

The scowling, vengeful stare captured at a Georgia jail on Thursday after Mr Trump was booked on racketeering and conspiracy charges has quickly become his campaign symbol.

T-shirts, mugs, stickers and beverage coolers bearing the first mugshot of a serving or former US president were put out by his team within hours of the photo's release.

The image of the 77-year-old – head tilted slightly down, his eyes glowering at the camera – is accompanied on the official merchandise by the words “Never Surrender” in uppercase letters.

The Georgia trial on charges that he tried to overturn the 2020 election is one of four criminal trials Mr Trump is due to face next year.

Notably absent from the merchandise is the local sheriff's badge watermark that appeared in the image released by authorities.

While such a photo would surely sink any other political candidate, for Mr Trump, it plays into his narrative of a defiant and heroic victim.

“This mugshot will forever go down in history as a symbol of America's defiance of tyranny,” screamed a fundraising email sent out by Trump 2024, asking supporters to pledge $47 in return for a T-shirt with the image.

New York-based marketing guru Daniel Binns said the photo could be a “hugely powerful” branding tool for Mr Trump.

“As a marketer, this is his genius, that he can reclaim whatever is said, or whatever is accused, or whatever imagery is created, and turn it into something which stands for the story he wants to tell,” the chief executive of marketing consultancy Interbrand North America told AFP.

The picture of Mr Trump dressed in his trademark dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie against a grey backdrop is now arguably the most famous mugshot ever taken, joining a rogues' gallery that includes OJ Simpson and Tiger Woods.

Mr Trump's embrace of the image was clear when he quickly used it to post his first message in more than two and a half years on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

He included the “never surrender” slogan and added “election interference” – his common refrain that the four criminal cases against him are a Democratic plot to derail his bid to regain the White House in next year's election.

Some of his most prominent backers are also weaponising the image as the Republican party seeks to take back the presidency from Joe Biden.

Far-right Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene also posted the picture, adding the words: “This is the photo that will win the 2024 presidential election.”

But Mr Trump's Democratic opponents sought to use it for their own ends.

“No one is above the law,” the House Judiciary Committee wrote on X alongside the image.

Mr Trump rose from real estate billionaire to reality TV star to president off marketing of his name.

From his hometown of New York to cities in the Gulf and Asia, “Trump” has appeared on everything from hotels and luxury residential towers to golf courses and ice rinks.

“So much of the imaginary has been of success, and achievement, everything in gold. This is very different,” noted Mr Binns.

“The brand does not want to be about anger and defiance. That is sort of his political brand and it will work for him in the short term but the Trump brand overall is not about that.”

Updated: August 25, 2023, 10:12 PM