How Donald Trump is cashing in on his own brand

The former US president is making the most of his White House fame with new moneymaking projects such as paid events, a souvenir store and a communications company

Former US President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida on February 26.
Former US President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida on February 26.MARCO BELLO (REUTERS)

Donald Trump has turned his post-presidential stage into one huge moneymaking venture. Besides his real estate business, there is now a Trump Store in which a tray to make four ice cubes with the “T” logo costs $35 and a robe, $185. His followers sometimes pay up to $8,500 for a front row seat at one of his talks, plus a reception and the chance to have a picture taken with him. This is how the former president has managed to raise more than twice as much as the Republican National Committee in 2021, an unprecedented feat for a politician who is not holding elected office and has not yet communicated his intention to seek reelection in 2024.

The New York native is exploiting his side as a businessman to capitalize on the almost messianic status he has among his most loyal followers. In addition to his events, paid talks and property rentals, last November Trump released a photo book of his presidential term via Winning Team Publishing, a company co-founded by his son Donald Trump Jr. and which has only published that one book. The former president has also ventured into the world of communications with Trump Media & Technology Group, which has raised $1 billion in investments. The company owns Truth Social, Trump’s social network, which appeared in Apple’s app store on Monday and is expected to be fully operational by the end of March.

It’s common for former presidents to profit from their experiences in the Oval Office, as well as first ladies. Examples of this are the book and speaking tours of the Obamas and the Clintons; however, until now the line between business and politics had never been so blurred. So far this year, donations and investments from his hard-core base continue to fill the mogul’s piggy bank. For example, Trump’s Save America political action committee (PAC) closed January with $108 million in the bank, doubling once more the Republican National Committee’s figure.

The former president is not using the proceeds to strengthen the campaigns of the more than 100 Republican candidates he has supported ahead of the legislative elections in November, in which the party will be fighting to regain the House of Representatives and the Senate. Since July, the PAC has donated only $305,500 to candidates. That’s less than the $838,000 the committee spent in January organizing events and on related expenses according to data collected by Bloomberg.

On Wednesday, Trump’s golf club in Mar-a-Lago (West Palm Beach) hosted a “Take Back Congress Candidate Forum” in which the cost of admission per couple was as much as $250,000; guaranteeing a private dinner and photo with Trump, as well as VIP seating at the event. There was also an “option” of renting a room at the resort during the conference. Anyone paying less than this amount was apparently not allowed to stay there. According to The Washington Post, proceeds from the event will not go to the candidates’ campaigns, but to Trump’s Super PACs, which have the distinction of being able to receive unlimited funds.

The fact that he was ostracised by social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook has not prevented the former president from being connected to his follower base as before. In addition to creating his own social platform to solve the issue, the Republican’s team is bombarding its army of supporters with daily emails with the sole purpose of raising money. “We can’t save America from Joe Biden without your donation”, claims one of the latest newsletters.

In December, Trump also reached out to his supporters with a tour he took with Fox News former host Bill O’Reilly. Ticket prices for the “Historic Tour” ranged from $100 to $300, but the Republican made his favorite move to generate more revenue: a guarantee to take pictures with him and a 45-minute reception before the event. Tax included, the full experience exceeded the amount of $8,500.

According to the local press, the tour wasn’t a success. However, Trump took advantage of the thousands of followers who did attend to promote Our Journey Together, the photo book he published in late November. The copy contains 300 photographs accompanied by brief captions supposedly written by the former president. The cost of the book is $74.99. A signed copy is $229.99. In less than two months, $20 million was raised and signed copies sold out. Now, to get one you have to visit eBay, where prices range from $1,000 to $2,000.

Despite the constant revenue stream, Trump is still dealing with the issue of his tax returns. The audit firm that handled the Trump Organization’s financial returns disassociated itself earlier this month from its client, arguing that it could not back those of the past decade. Such information is crucial to the criminal and civil investigations against the Republican’s emporium led by the Manhattan District Attorney and New York State Attorney General’s Office for alleged misrepresentation of asset values.

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