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The Woman Behind Trump’s Empire of Swag

Christl Mahfouz is about to ship the millionth MAGA cap. Hawking the campaign merch between elections is crucial.
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Photographer: Tom Williams/Getty Images

By Christl Mahfouz’s accounting, the one-millionth official Donald Trump hat will ship this summer from her company’s warehouse in Lafayette, La. Ace Specialties Inc. is the official merchandise distributor for the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising effort of the president’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. That means virtually every Trump-sanctioned hat, yard sign, button, or T-shirt in circulation has passed through her facility. Since August 2015, Trump entities have sent Ace checks for more than $21 million, Federal Election Commission records show.

While Trump didn’t invent campaign swag, he used it as well as any candidate in recent memory—not only as a source of revenue but also to connect to voters and build a database of donors. Keeping an online store active between elections is crucial these days. “You build new supporters and you collect that data, so when you run for reelection you have a larger grass-roots organization,” says Steve Grubbs, who ran the online store for Senator Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential bid. “Even though the campaign is over, they have continuing costs that need to be covered.”