Voices: Trump and the million dollar mugshot that could win him the presidency

If Trump feels he is owning the narrative, twisting it to suit his own ends, then he believes he is winning (Fulton County Sheriff’s Office)
If Trump feels he is owning the narrative, twisting it to suit his own ends, then he believes he is winning (Fulton County Sheriff’s Office)

Donald Trump has a new eight-figure number attached to his name – inmate number P01135809 – after having surrendered in Georgia country jail to be arrested on charges of trying to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results.

From it, the former White House incumbent will try to raise as close as he can to another eight figures – this time in funds towards his bid to retake the presidency in 2024. There would seem little doubt that the brooding stare in the mugshot that will be at the centre of these money-raising efforts was carefully managed. While millions will see the historic shame of a former president, it will merely harden the resolve of Trump’s supporters. And that will mean they will open their wallets to create the war chest upon which Trump will push towards the presidency.

Trump has never let the weight of history sit heavily on his soldiers. He is often happy to exploit the attention to his own gain whether it is positive or negative. It is the same now. While his social media rants clearly suggest he personally feels the sting of embarrassment, it is all funnelled into his political image as the great outsider. An image that his millions of supporters are all too happy to rally behind as representing how disillusioned they are – despite the fact that Trump’s history is nothing but being part of the traditional establishment of wealth and power.

It is a playbook that has been in operation since before he made it to the White House. I was in the US for his inauguration and reported on his time in high office. His first thought is always not to look weak, and the rest is built from that. Whatever the unwanted historical precedent he is setting, he works with it as long as it is creating an "enemy" for him to rail against – a situation where he can be seen to stand strong even if all seems to be burning around him.

Maggie Haberman, a reporter for The New York Times who has been a close observer of Trump, summed it up nicely: “Circulating the mugshot, fundraising off of it, owning it, using it for press – that is all part of a playbook that we have seen him use over and over again,” she said.

If Trump feels he is owning the narrative, twisting it to suit his own ends, then he believes he is winning. And he has a ready-made audience ready to lap it up. Those 20 minutes being booked in the jailhouse in Fulton have created an image that he would probably like to become as ubiquitous among his supporters as the red “Make America Great Again” hats that became such a symbol during his first run for the White House.

Trump’s campaign is already offering T-shirts with the mugshot on them to those that make a certain contribution to him. It will not be the last we see of such merchandise, I’m sure. The former president also reappeared on X, formerly known as Twitter, for the first time in more than two years (having been banned in 2021, but then reinstated in November) to promote the link to his campaign site, alongside a picture of the mugshot. At the time of writing, that tweet has been viewed more than 83 million times and "liked" more than 800,000 times. It is the type of exposure that he can only dream of from his own social media platform Truth Social.

If you scroll down Trump’s feed on X, his previous messages all relate to the protests that sparked the riot at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Events of that day constitute one of four state and federal cases in which Trump faces charges. He denies all the allegations against him, claiming it is all part of a "witch hunt" against him. But it will not stop him milking the whole situation for all its worth.

For Trump, everything is an opportunity.