Bright red hats emblazoned with the words “Make America Great Again” dominated the crowd celebrating in front of the Capitol. The hats were a powerful reminder of the dramatic change in power about to unfold in Washington and became prized possessions for some of Trump’s supporters.
Mark Stroman bought five hats from a street vendor for friends back home in Los Angeles, acknowledging the political divide the apparel represented.
“I think that they brought some divisiveness,” Stroman said. “They made a great divide between Democrats and Republicans but I think they made people pay attention, they made people wake up.”
Campaign swag is easy to dismiss, but Trump’s hat captured how his candidacy disrupted and divided the country. Like many things in Trump’s campaign, it’s hard to conclude there was a grand strategy that led to its success. But its connection with voters — for good or bad — is undeniable.
Here’s the story of how the hat became one of the most powerful symbols in modern American politics.
There were no marketing experts or design research involved in the initial idea for the hat, according to former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
“I think somebody actually sent us a sample,” Lewandowski told CNN. “They brought that sample to Donald Trump and he said, ‘I like it, let’s tweak this, let’s do it differently.'”
Lewandowski said they tried out different prototypes, different size fonts and styles before they landed on a keeper. After that, the hats were kept on Trump’s plane at all times.
It was a little more than a month after he announced his candidacy that Trump first donned the hat in public at a campaign event. When he made a much-publicized trip to Laredo, Texas, in July 2015 to visit the US-Mexico border, the hot weather necessitated a more casual look than his usual suit and tie.
“Just for the sweat factor and other things, he chose to wear the hat,” Lewandowski said.
At the time, Trump was caught up in a tornado of controversy, from questioning Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero to speculation about running as a third-party candidate and a Border Patrol union backing out of the visit at the last moment.
A crush of reporters waited for Trump in the small terminal of the airport when Trump’s plane touched down.
“He came around the corner and we all went, ‘Oh!,’ CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, who covered the event, remembered. “I really remember it vividly because it was like, ‘Oh, of course, he’s the master marketer. Why wouldn’t he put it on a hat?'”