Trump’s Out of Office, but the MAGA Merchandise Machine Keeps Chugging

Trump’s Out of Office, but the MAGA Merchandise Machine Keeps Chugging

Denouncing “ultra-MAGA” Republicans in a recent speech about fighting inflation, President Biden clearly saw an opportunity to tie the party to Donald Trump and the far-right fringe.

Ronald Solomon, the president of the clothing and merchandising company MAGA Mall, also saw an opportunity.

Now, he says, demand is way up for “ultra-MAGA” hats.

“Every time there’s some attack on people like that, they gladly wear it and they’re proud of it,” he said.

Solomon, an investment banker and lifelong Republican whose activism stretches back to making phone calls as a teenager for Ronald Reagan in 1976, began selling Trump-inspired merchandise in 2016. Solomon had initially volunteered for Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, but he switched sides as the Make America Great Again movement took off.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the MAGA Mall website offers more than 180 hats and over a dozen product categories, including greeting cards, rhinestone caps and “Not My Dictator” T-shirts featuring Democrats like Biden and Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada.

Solomon, who also travels to Republican events to sell his products, said that he had about a quarter-million hats alone in inventory.

“We have the Rolls-Royce of political hats,” he said, “at Chevrolet prices.”

He said he wore his company’s hats everywhere, except parties and formal restaurants.

Now, after Biden’s speech last week, Solomon is adding T-shirts and caps that declare pride in being “ultra-MAGA” or an “ultra-MAGA extremist” to his suite of products.

The most popular item, of course, remains the famous red “MAGA” hat, though products with “Let’s go, Brandon” have been a top seller for months as well.

Some are made in the United States and others overseas, Solomon said. He declined to specify where exactly the items had been manufactured.

MAGA Mall, which has a campaign arm that donates to pro-Trump candidates and causes, also sells items with messages that are more aggressive. For example, a flag depicts a caricature of Trump urinating on the name “Joe Biden.”

Solomon defends such items as “obviously in jest.”

Mort Berkowitz, who has been designing political buttons since Watergate, is going in a different direction.

A Democrat who has long made products poking fun at politicians in both parties, he now refuses requests to make Trump-themed merchandise.

He’s designed his fair share of buttons that push the envelope, and he sold MAGA-related merchandise during the 2016 presidential campaign, but Trump’s messages have gone too far for him.

“It’s divisive to the point of hurting the country,” said Berkowitz, who stipulated that he continues to create buttons for other Republican politicians, like Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.

Berkowitz reeled off a list of buttons he’s designed over time: “Richard the Lying Hearted” for Nixon, “You Can’t Run for President With Your Fly Open” for Gary Hart, and so on.

His most famous button might be a 1996 pin for Hillary “Rodman” Clinton, turning her hair orange to replicate the N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman. She included a reference to it in her 1996 Democratic National Convention speech.

Berkowitz was particularly proud of his work during the Watergate scandal (“4 More Years, Mr. Nixon, Then 10 to 20”), and recalled designing a button featuring Ronald Reagan and George Orwell that didn’t land with attendees at the 1984 Republican National Convention.

“Very few people had any idea who George Orwell was,” he said. “They wanted to know why I wasn’t for George Bush.”

Buttons he designed are at the Smithsonian and other museums throughout the country. Currently, his biggest sellers are pins that show support for Ukraine. But his top requests are for pro-Trump merchandise — items that say things like “Amend the Constitution,” or “Re-elect Trump to a Third Term.”

During the 2016 campaign, Berkowitz churned out Trump-inspired merchandise. He recalls that one of his friends placed an order for 10,000 MAGA hats. “I had nothing against Trump when he ran or when he won,” he said. But that started to change, and was cemented after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

He didn’t sell any merchandise for the candidates running in Pennsylvania’s G.O.P. primaries this week, either, calling the candidates “vicious” and “anti-American.”

Biden is far from the first politician to find that criticism of a rival or an opposing group of voters can be flipped around into a rallying cry.

Trump’s supporters famously lifted a term used by Hillary Clinton and proudly called themselves “deplorables.”

But before that, a prominent example came during the 1840 presidential campaign.

During that race, a critic of William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate, poked fun at his age by suggesting that he would be happier collecting a pension from a log cabin while drinking hard cider than occupying the White House.

As Claire Jerry, a curator of political history at the Smithsonian, put it, Harrison’s response was, essentially: “OK, fine, I’ll run with that.”

Harrison, an aristocrat, embraced the salt-of-the-earth image, adopting the slogan “Log Cabin and Hard Cider.” It inspired campaign items like a china creamer and a cane.

The criticism of Harrison turned into one of the earliest clear campaign messages.

“And as time went on, you get bandannas and you get eventually T-shirts,” said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, a curator who works with Jerry. “Variants of that have been in the campaign world for over a century.”

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On Politics regularly features work by Times photographers. Here’s what Michael A. McCoy told us about capturing the image above:

Before the pandemic, I always saw merchant mariners outside the Capitol. It took a long time for those guys to be recognized.

I am a veteran myself, having served in the infantry, and did not see a lot of Black officers. I have also spent time photographing veterans over the years.

When I arrived at this ceremony, I was reminded of my time in the military. Charles Mills was the only person of color there and, like me, is from Baltimore. The woman on the left is his granddaughter.

I stayed after the ceremony, after some other photographers had left, and was able to capture this moment.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you on Monday.

— Leah

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