Sep 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The Trump identity and fashion statement

Trump supporters standing at a rally.
Spotted at President Trump campaign event in Winston-Salem, N.C., last week. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

If President Trump defies today's swing-state polls and pulls off another upset, what will we have missed that could have been a clue?

Here's a big one: Trump flotillas ... Trump flags bigger than American flags ... Trump truck rallies ... Trump shirts ... Trump underwear ... lawns that don't have a Trump-Pence sign or two but 50 or even 100 — a forest.

Why it matters: To his diehard supporters, Trump isn't just a candidate. He's a lifestyle choice and a vehicle for self-expression — a way to continually flip the middle finger at big media, big business, big government ... anything big.

  • It's all part of one of the big Trump triumphs — convincing his voters that an attack on him is actually an attack on them.

A hat, popular in rural convenience stores this summer, says it all: "If You Don't Like Trump Then You Probably Won't Like Me."

  • At rallies, you see people wearing Trump flags like a billowing robe. And a lot of this isn't official campaign merch — people print these up themselves.

At a Trumper classic-car rally in Michigan this weekend, one red, white and blue Trump flag — in place of "Keep America Great" — said, "NO MORE B.S.," with the last word spelled out. Nearby, a man wore a flag-bedecked t-shirt proclaiming: "JESUS IS MY SAVIOR / TRUMP IS MY PRESIDENT."

  • Trump regattas are everywhere, from the solid South to the fancy waters of Mystic, Conn. (Bad metaphorical optics when five Trump boats, swamped by the wake from a massive lake rally, sank near Austin over Labor Day.)
Boats with Trump accessories all over them.
A Trump boat parade passes Mar-a-Lago on Labor Day. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"Axios on HBO" went to Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., to explore this phenomenon for a segment we call, "Trump on the lake."

  • Axios CEO Jim VandeHei: "In your lifetime, do you ever remember a Ronald Reagan flag as big as the American flag in somebody's front yard? Do you ever remember someone spray painting 'Obama' on their boat?"
  • White House editor Margaret Talev: "No, but there's never been a president whose brand was branding. ... They like the fact that he says things that you're not allowed to say — that he says things that they feel that they can't say at work or in mixed company."

Randy Kelly, a retired boat dealer who has lived at Lake of the Ozarks since moving down from Kansas City 43 years ago, told "Axios on HBO":

  • "If you see someone that has on a Trump hat, there's a camaraderie: Hey, we got something in common."

The bottom line: Trump touts a "silent majority," and pundits pundit about "shy Trump voters" who may be missed by pollsters.

  • But one of the stories of this election is that the Trump vote is screaming, not silent.
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