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With Markers and Straws, Trump’s Campaign Sells Defiance as a Lifestyle


Most of the merchandise requests are routed through a company called Ace Specialties in Lafayette, La., whose owner, Christl Mahfouz, can often be seen mingling with fans outside Trump rallies. Her team sells hats in exchange for money and the buyer’s voting data: Each time a supporter buys a T-shirt or a hat at a rally, a digital interface prompts them to turn over their names, addresses and other voter-specific information.

Publicly, at least, all credit goes to the president.

“President Trump is a master of communication and branding, and his campaign merchandise is emblematic of that,” Mr. Murtaugh said. “It gives people a little ownership of the re-election campaign and gives them high-quality merchandise in exchange for their donations.”

Mr. Parscale has privately taken credit for some of the more incendiary items, including the straws and the “Fredo Unhinged” T-shirt.

The attention, good and bad, just adds up to more money for Mr. Trump, Jennifer Wingard, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Houston, said in an interview. Ms. Wingard said that in some ways, Mr. Trump understood the very basics of social media influencer culture long before the Kardashians (or the Caroline Calloways) of the world did.

“His obsession with popularity,” Ms. Wingard said, “speaks to the social media influencing mind-set that most politicians don’t have.”

Internally, the commodification of the president’s trollish insults, no matter how un-politically correct, are a point of pride: A Pencil Neck illustration — a crude depiction of Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, based on a name Mr. Trump called him in a tweet — hangs in the kitchen of the campaign’s headquarters in suburban Virginia.

In some cases, it is not always clear that Mr. Trump understands the nuances of each smaller battle waged on his behalf. When asked if he supported the banning of plastic straws in July, the president said the public had bigger things to worry about before delivering an answer that ultimately did not match the fiery language used by his campaign.


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