March 17, 2020
With the world watching, President Donald Trump, flanked by his most senior advisers, stepped to the podium at the White House and…modeled a hat his campaign sells for $40. For people who’ve been paying close attention, this is the latest in a long overlap of Trump using a crisis to shill campaign hats. For those not used to seeing the president in crisis mode, this was an introduction to the overlap in the Venn diagram of Trump the president, Trump the candidate and Trump the salesman.
It’s almost irrelevant whether Trump’s intention was to use Saturday’s press conference as a de facto campaign event or a chance for his campaign to make a buck. Trump has done this over and over again, and each time is a slap in the face of presidential decorum.
Trump’s history of donning campaign hats during emergencies lines up with the natural disasters of his administration, from Hurricane Harvey to the California wildfires. You could even call the hat he wore on Saturday the campaign’s official crisis hat, since Trump debuted it in a photo op at Camp David for the official White House response to Hurricane Dorian, less than 48 hours before his campaign started selling it.
For President Trump, promoting his campaign merchandise is not limited to times of crisis. Campaign hats have shown up in his typical presidential duties, from talking to press at the White House to meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan. This is just the logical progression for a president who made a career out of branding himself and spent much of his presidency promoting his private company.
This behavior extends to his senior staff: then-acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was photographed on the job wearing a Space Force hat sold by the Trump re-election campaign, before Space Force even had a logo. Had the senior government officials surrounding Trump at Saturday’s press conference been wearing campaign hats, they could have broken federal ethics law. A law that, of course, does not apply to the president.
That Trump has tied his campaign hat to his coronavirus response should come as no surprise, given how often he’s done something like this. There’s little use attempting to gauge his intentions. For Trump, it’s clear everything, presidency, crisis, campaign, business, are all really just different ways of approaching the same thing–the chance to sell a product that will benefit him.