Is the Trump Campaign Just an Elaborate Scheme for Selling Trucker Hats?

By
Donald Trump Leads Rally For US Military At USS Iowa
Photo: Justin Sullivan/2015 Getty Images

Donald Trump’s campaign is starting to look less like a presidential bid and more like an experiment in starting political fashion trends.

In the third quarter of campaign financing, the “self-funded” Trump contributed a mere $100,800 to his own campaign. Over that same period, he spent more than $500,000 on hats from Louisiana-based Ace Specialties. Together with T-shirts, his campaign spent $678,000 on apparel, more than it spent on any other line item except for airfare — and since all airfare was paid to a Trump-owned airline, “Make America Great Again” merchandise was effectively the candidate’s largest outside expense.

Trump financed his wholesale hat purchases by taking in $3.8 million in outside contributions — more than many other GOP candidates who never claimed to be self-funding. That $3.8 million was made up of 74,000 individual donations, a portion of which came in the form of merchandise purchases.

From a certain angle, the Trump campaign resembles an enterprise designed to crowdsource capital for the purchase of trucker hats and then sell those hats back to much of that same crowd at a marked-up price. Granted, Trump can’t directly profit off sales of campaign merchandise, but those sales do make it easier for him to sustain a campaign without spending very much of his own money.

In the previous quarter, Trump contributed $1.8 million to his own cause while taking in just $96,300 in outside contributions. The candidate credited his drastic reduction in self-financing to “good business practices,” among other things, in a statement:

While our original budget was substantially higher than the amount spent, good business practices and even better ideas and policy have made it unnecessary to have spent a larger sum.

Still, Trump is raising just barely enough to sustain his current spending. His campaign took in $5.8 million since it launched, and it’s spent all but $254,000.

Trump recently told the Washington Post that he’s on the verge of making his first big ad buy. To do so Trump will need to drastically increase his own personal spending (and/or merchandise sales). Alternatively, he could just continue riding a steady stream of free media and ever-increasing trucker-hat word-of-mouth marketing to the Republican nomination — the latest CBS News poll puts him atop the primary field with 27 percent of the vote.