All publicity is good publicity

By Victoria Cooper, Research Editor

Facing 13 criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, former president Trump surrendered to authorities in the state’s Fulton County Jail on Friday. The surrender was the first time, despite having already undergone three other criminal proceedings, that Trump’s photo was taken as part of the procedure, which gave the world the unprecedented, first-ever mug shot of a US president.

Now infamous, the photo presented Trump's detractors and allies with the perfect symbol for their vastly different messages; for critics – the image of an untrustworthy, reputationally weathered and reckless political figure, and for allies – a defiant martyr facing political persecution and the so-called ‘weaponisation’ of the justice system by Democrats. It also marked the former president’s official return to X (formerly ‘Twitter’) with the caption “NEVER SURRENDER”.

As Trump’s legal woes mount pressure on the former president’s 2024 calendar (including the most recent announcement of a major trial beginning just one day before Super Tuesday) and wallet, perhaps the most lucrative use of the image was by Trump’s Save America fundraising committee for various merchandise.

Within days of the photo's release, $12 bumper stickers, $25 coffee mugs and $34 t-shirts brandished with the mug shot emerged for sale on Trump’s official presidential campaign website. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr also advertised the merchandise on his X account pledging all profits from the sales would go towards Trump’s legal defence.

According to the probes in his first criminal indictment in New York (relating to the Trump team’s alleged campaign fund mismanagement), Trump has invested over US$98 million (AU$153 million) in merchandise operations since 2015. While red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps have become iconic symbols of the president’s political causes and supporters, time will only tell whether these new ‘mug shot mugs’ will ascend to the same iconic status or make any difference to the president's fortunes in 2024.