Trump is out of office, but the MAGA Merchandise Machine is still blowing

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

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

Now, he says, demand is on the rise for “ultra-MAGA” hats.

“Whenever there are attacks on people like that, they wear it with pleasure and they are proud of it,” he said.

Solomon, an investment banker and lifelong Republican whose activism dates back to making phone calls as a teenager for Ronald Reagan in 1976, began selling Trump-inspired merchandise in 2016. Solomon 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 features over 180 hats and more than a dozen product categories, including greeting cards, rhinestone caps, and Not My Dictator t-shirts. featuring Democrats like Biden and Governor Steve Sisolak of Nevada.

Solomon, who also travels to Republican events to sell his wares, said he alone has about a quarter of a million hats in stock.

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

He said he wore his company hats everywhere except at parties and formal restaurants.

Now, following Biden’s speech last week, Solomon is adding t-shirts and caps that declare pride in being “ultra-MAGA” or an “extremist ultra-MAGA” to his product line.

The most popular item, of course, remains the famous red “MAGA” hat, although products with “Let’s go, Brandon” have also been top sellers for months.

Some are made in the United States and some overseas, Solomon said. He declined to specify where exactly the items were made.

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

Solomon defends things like “obviously joking”.

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

A Democrat who has long made products mocking politicians of both parties, he now refuses requests to make Trump-themed products.

He designed his fair share of boundary-pushing buttons and sold MAGA-related merchandise during the 2016 presidential campaign, but Trump’s messaging went too far for him.

“It’s so divisive as to hurt the country,” said Berkowitz, who stipulated that he continues to make buttons for other Republican politicians, like Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.

Berkowitz rolled out a list of buttons he’s devised over time: “Liar-hearted Richard” 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 his hair orange to replicate NBA star Dennis Rodman. She referenced 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 remembers designing a button featuring Ronald Reagan and George Orwell that didn’t landed 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 was not for George Bush.”

The buttons he designed are in the Smithsonian and other museums around the country. Currently, its biggest sellers are pins that show support for Ukraine. But his main demands are for pro-Trump products — articles that say things like “Amend the Constitution” or “Re-elect Trump for a third term.”

During the 2016 campaign, Berkowitz produced Trump-inspired merchandise. He remembers that a friend of his placed an order for 10,000 MAGA hats. “I had nothing against Trump when he ran or when he won,” he said. But that began to change and was cemented after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He also didn’t sell any merchandise for Pennsylvania GOP primary candidates this week, calling the candidates “vicious” and “un-American.”

Biden is far from the first politician to discover that criticism of a rival or opposing group of voters can be turned into a rallying cry.

Trump supporters raised a term used by Hillary Clinton and proudly called themselves “deplorable.”

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

During this run, a critic of William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate, made fun of his age by suggesting that he would be happier collecting a pension in a log cabin while drinking hard cider than occupy the White House.

As Smithsonian political history curator Claire Jerry put it, Harrison’s response was basically, “OK, okay, I’ll go with that.”

Harrison, an aristocrat, embraced the salt of the earth image by adopting the slogan “Log Cabin and Hard Cider”. It inspired campaign items like a porcelain creamer and walking stick.

Harrison’s criticism became one of the first clear campaign messages.

“And over time you get bandanas and eventually you get T-shirts,” said Lisa Kathleen Graddy, a curator who works with Jerry. “Variations of this have been in the campaign world for over a century.”

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

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

I’m a veteran myself, having served in the infantry, and I haven’t seen many black officers. I have also spent time photographing veterans over the years.

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

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

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

– Horrible

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