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Donald Trump mug shot ‘may become a defining visual’ for presidential campaign

Crystal Graham

donald trump For the first time in U.S. history, a former president had their mug shot taken and released to the public in connection to criminal charges.

Donald Trump surrendered at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia Thursday and was booked on felony charges alleging he participated in a criminal conspiracy to illegally overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia.

Virginia Tech political science and public relations experts believe there was a calculated effort by the former president and his team on how he should look in the mug shot.

“Trump’s mug shot expression tries to convey strength and defiance, likely a strategy used to rile up his base,” said Chad Hankinson, a political science expert at Virginia Tech. “The likely interpretation for them is that he is fearless, powerful, confident and undeterred by efforts to undermine him.”

Trump’s campaign released the photo while requesting donations. Hankinson believes he’s trying to capitalize on this to raise more campaign funds.

“Overall, he views this as a win that will net him more campaign contributions and supporters, and further the narrative that he is the target of politically motivated investigations that are meant to derail his chances of regaining the presidency.”

Virginia Tech political expert Karen Hult said Trump has long claimed that any publicity is “good” publicity.

“This is another historic “first” for U.S. presidents and arguably another step along the path of a collapsing constitutional republic,” said Hult.

Cayce Myers, a public relations professor in the School of Communication, said mug shots have become a defining visual for news coverage of arrests.

“Often thought of as a degrading experience, mug shots frequently are thought to be unflattering and frequently present the subject as a guilty person who got caught,” said Myers. “In high-profile cases, there is a strategy for taking a mug shot where the person arrested attempts to send a message to the public with their picture.”

Trump’s expression, said Myers, expresses disgust and contempt which helps support his narrative that the arrest is unjust and politically motivated.

“Trump’s mug shot may become a defining visual for the 2024 presidential campaign, perhaps not surprisingly on both sides,” Myers said.

While pundits predicted that such images would be used to undermine Trump’s credibility in 2024, Myers agrees with Hankinson that it is Trump who is likely to use the visual to promote his own campaign.

“His indictments have become a rallying cry and platform for his 2024 presidential campaign, and polling in the Republican primary shows that his sizable lead has not diminished despite these legal problems.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.