Republicans have made it very clear that they are going to be the party of Donald Trump. They are going to put Donald Trump’s name and face on everything. They are going to sing his praises. They are going to rope his supporters into their other campaigns because a vote for Republican congressional hopeful John Doe is a vote for Donald Trump, and you can tell because we put Donald Trump’s photo on the Doe for Congress flyers.
But there’s someone who isn’t happy with this strategy: Donald J. Trump. Trump, who built his entire career on licensing his brand, might have thought he’d have a lucrative post-White House business licensing out the Trump name to conservative politicians dreaming of tapping into the incredible brand he’s built. The “Trump” political brand means something and, in business, you can turn that into a lucrative licensing empire.
Former President of the United States Donald Trump is, though, a former president. The Republican National Committee uses Trump’s name and image because it seeks to “defend President Trump’s America First policies” and it needs your money, fixed-income senior citizen, to do that. It has long done the same with former presidents like Bush, Bush Again, and Reagan – especially Reagan -and its Democratic counterpart often uses Obama and other high-profile Democrats like the Clintons in fundraising emails, too.
The committees don’t ask for permission first because they don’t have to. They’re not necessarily claiming endorsement although they’re not upset if you might think they are. Politicians do not enjoy the same protections against defamation that private citizens do and, when it comes to the use of their image, they have far less ability to control it. This is part of the doctrine of fair use, which allows organizations to use copyrighted or otherwise protected material for newsworthy or educational purposes. Now, fair use is not well-understood by the public, who post clips from TV shows on YouTube and write in the caption that it’s fair use because they’re not trying to profit from it (spoiler: that’s not what fair use is), but you might expect that a supposedly-brilliant businessman whose entire career was built on licensing would understand the doctrine of fair use.
Trump’s attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Republican National Committee instructing them to stop using the former president’s likeness to raise money. Trump has called for loyalists to only donate to his Save America PAC, which is possibly just a vehicle to raise money for the Trump family’s personal use. In order to make sure those donations go to where Trump has personal control over them, he wants the RNC to stop but, fun fact, no.
The RNC “has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech,” it said in a reply published today, signaling that the party intends to use the Trump name until it stops yielding money for them. The world’s greatest negotiator is really on a roll.