At the rally in Arizona, Trump’s first of the year, vendors lined the path from the parking lot to the entrance to the site, Canyon Moon Ranch. They had been in the game long enough to perfect their setups: comfy camp chairs, well-stocked coolers, big speakers pumping out classic rock. The area outside the gates had a festive, tailgate atmosphere. Kris Walden, who had a messy beard, weaved his way through parked cars, towing a collapsible cart full of hats and hoodies. “Be deplorable, make yourself adorable!” he called potential customers. He was working as a mover in South Carolina. After covid-19 put a damper on that job, a friend recruited him to help sell Trump merchandise. At first he thought he wasn’t cut out for the job – “I was a shy individual”, he said – but soon “it became a whole lifestyle”. For the past five months, he’s lived on the road in a new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter pickup truck he bought with his earnings, driving from rally to gun show across Oklahoma, Texas, l ‘Arkansas, Alabama. “By next year, sales will skyrocket,” he said. “Trump is going to run again. He must.”
Trump has a marketer’s instinct for slogans and jokes; the merchandising apparatus that has sprung up around it is nimble enough that the meme of the moment – “Let’s go, Brandon”, for example – could find its way onto shirts within days. The Red MAGA the hat, although still ubiquitous, is no longer the best seller; several sellers have told me that, these days, anti-Biden products are more popular than pro-Trump options. Shoppers love “Jesus is my King, Trump is my President” shirts, but they don’t mind a little vulgarity either. I asked an elderly sovereign wearing a salmon-colored sweater what his most popular items were. “Today is ‘Fuck Biden’,” he said. “Sometimes it’s ‘Fuck Biden,’ sometimes it’s ‘Biden sucks and you suck for voting for him,’ sometimes it’s ‘Fuck Biden, Fuck Harris, and Fuck You for voting for them.'” Then he corrected me: he did not sell his flags, he negotiated which meant, he believed, that he was not subject to trade regulations. “Most people are exchanging money,” he admitted. “But I was offered spare tyres. I was offered tow chains.