Donald Trump has always been more to the American psyche than a presidential candidate. When the flaxen-haired mogul first descended an escalator into his campaign launch in June 2015, people already knew him as a celebrity business tycoon, famous for his reality television show, products like Trump steak and Trump neckties, and buildings bearing his name throughout the world.
So when Trump’s candidacy took off and he became a political force as well as a cultural one, a whole new variety of merchandise exploded into the Trumpian universe. Now for sale: crocheted Donald Trump dolls, prayer candles with his face on them and all manner of t-shirts, posters and art depicting Trump riding military tanks surrounded by soaring eagles. Trump often crows that he started a political “movement” — the fact that people can now bake using cookie cutters shaped liked Trump’s face is evidence of that movement’s zealous cultural underpinnings.
Then there are the people behind all of these items, Trump fans uprooting their own lives and staking their reputations on supporting the controversial man they want to see win the White House.
In June, #TrumpGirlsBreakTheInternet trended on Twitter as attractive female Trump fans posted photos of themselves, some in American flag bikinis, to upend the stereotype of Trump voters as middle aged white men.
David Goss says some of these “Trump girls” use his service: he’s the founder of Trumpsingles.com, a dating website for Trump supporters. He founded the site in May and saw its number of users surge from about 500 to more than 10,000 in the span of just a few weeks. “If you take someone who’s all for Hillary [Clinton] who shares her values and you put them with someone that’s all for Trump with his values, it’s not going to work out,” Goss says of relationships in 2016. Now he’s considering quitting his job as a television producer to focus on the website fulltime.
Chris Cox is also putting his day job on hold for Trump. Cox is an artist based in South Carolina who carves wood using chainsaws, but he’s also the founder the 70,000-member group Bikers for Trump. Cox has spent the better part of a year traveling the country in a 1969 camper van with his motorcycle in tow, throwing his own rallies to drum up support and gathering fellow bikers to provide pro bono security at Trump events. When he’s running low on cash, he pulls over to the side of the road, carves one of the logs he has in the back of his truck and sells it. “It’s not as romantic as people might think on the campaign trail,” Cox says. “I have to go to the bathroom sometimes in a milk jug.”
Trump’s devotees will see their candidate become the unlikely standard-bearer of the Republican Party at the convention next week. But no matter the outcome of the general election, Trump tchotchkes will remain as small reminders of the way a brash reality television star ignited the country when he ran for president.