Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale couldn’t drink his sweet tea. He raised a couple hundred thousand dollars instead.
The campaign manager was eating a quick meal when his paper straw, an environmentally-friendly and government-mandated drinking instrument, became soggy, crimped, and useless. “I’m so over paper straws,” Parscale tweeted along with a picture and the hashtag “#LiberalProgress.”
The little bit of boomer humor went viral. Almost 10,000 people registered similar frustration with likes and retweets. The so-called Trump straw was born.
For $15, plus shipping, conservative consumers can now buy a pack of 10 identical and reusable red plastic drinking straws. Each comes laser engraved with “Trump” on the side, all are manufactured in the USA, and every purchase counts as a political contribution to the reelection campaign of the 45th president of the United States of America.
The Trump campaign ordered 200,000 straws last week, then scrambled to order more when the first batch sold out. They told RealClearPolitics they expect sales to exceed half-a-million dollars by early next week.
Campaign swag has become a staple of American politics, where candidates fundraise with merchandise, and voters signal allegiance by pulling on a T-shirt or slapping on a bumper sticker. In the age of Amazon, political vendors have only gotten more creative. Ahead of the last general election, the Republican National Committee sold replicas of the cowboy hat worn by former Vice President Dick Cheney ($72) while the Democratic National Committee sold tumblers that said “I Hate Tea Parties” ($30).
The Trump straws are no different, aside from the fact that drinking tubes made from polymers have become intertwined with a larger cultural controversy.
Because most plastic straws aren’t biodegradable, many find their way into landfills or oceans where they can pose a harm to fish and other wildlife. According to a 2017 study in the peer-reviewed journal of Science Advances, 91% of plastic, including drinking straws, isn’t recycled.
Environmentalists subsequently went to war. Cities like Berkley, Calif., and Seattle did their part to crack down, levying taxes or banning the use of plastic drinking straws outright. Washington, D.C., where Parscale was dining, has even put together a vice squad of the culinary variety to police any restaurant or coffee shop flouting the straw ban there.
These so-called straw cops, and the corporations voluntarily pulling plastic straws in favor of the paper variety, have not been well received outside the coasts.
“The paper straw is universally hated,” Trump campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh tells RealClearPolitics. “People feel like they have been lectured to and told they can’t use plastic straws — you know, the kind that actually work.”
But the Trump campaign isn’t simply selling functional straws to make a buck. It is making a point, Murtaugh explains, by using the frustration with the paper straw as “a proxy” for the larger frustration with government and progressive busybodies:
“It is a great marketing stroke which coincides very much with the president’s disdain for political correctness and dictating how people live their daily lives. These straws are a perfect marriage of the Trump approach to things and of Trump marketing. It just works.”
Much like the MAGA hat, the plastic straw sends a cultural message as much as a political one. It is us-against-them for the Trump crowd, and their side prefers to drink their soda and their cold coffee through a straw that won’t get soggy. Good fodder for fundraising, the plastic straws also come at a moment when the right places a premium on “triggering” the left.
If progressives don’t like plastic straws, they seem to be saying, the left can come and take them. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is making money and using the straws to identify new voters.
As of Friday, the campaign has filled 28,543 orders for a total sale of $428,145. According to Murtaugh, 40% of those political consumers were first-time donors. “Our data shows us that someone who donates to the campaign, votes with us in the upcoming election 96% of the time,” he tells RCP, and this “is actually a way to get new people involved.”
The campaign has been so successful that it has sparked unintended entrepreneurial side effects. Some have started scalping the Trump straws on eBay where bids have reached as high as $359.
“We think that is an indication of the phenomenon that is the Trump straw,” Murtaugh says of the copycats and the re-sellers. He notes that the campaign now has more straws in stock and adds that “we recommend people buy them from the source.”
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Published on realclearpolitics.com