The first time a candidate runs for president, they can campaign on possibility, making promises that won’t come into fruition for months or years, if at all. But when a sitting president runs for reelection it comes with a record, which isn’t as aspirational.
That difference can show up in slogans like Barack Obama’s. He ran on the hopeful “Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes We Can” in 2008, but in 2012 he used the more sober, utilitarian “Forward.” It did the job, but it wasn’t as sexy.
President Trump discussed the challenges of presidential rebranding at an Iowa Republican fundraiser on June 11. He praised his 2016 slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and asked the audience what they thought of his potential reelection slogan, “Keep America Great.”
Trump’s been polling supporters about the “Keep America Great” at recent events, and the reaction isn’t particularly decisive. Even Trump waffled on whether or not he likes it.
“KAG. I don’t know if I like that as much,” he said. At another fundraiser in April, he suggested the campaign could also keep “Make America Great Again” and use both.
The trademark for “Keep America Great” was filed for Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. on January 18, 2017, two days before he was sworn into office and subsequently filed for reelection, and 882 days before his scheduled 2020 kickoff rally in Orlando, Florida. Trump is known for thinking ahead when it comes to political branding; he trademarked “Make America Great Again” on November 19, 2012.
If there’s any other reelection slogan the Trump campaign is considering, a trademark for it hasn’t been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by press time. A trademark was filed, however, on the same day for a high-energy version of the phrase with an added exclamation point: Keep America Great!
The slogan is listed to be published for opposition on June 18, the date of Trump’s Orlando rally. The Trump campaign did not respond to an email asking what other slogan options were being considered.
“Keep America Great” was trademarked for use in goods including bumper stickers, decals, banners, pamphlets, posters, pens, sweatshirts, t-shirts, tank tops, baby clothes, campaign buttons, and of course hats. In 2018 Trump suggested that new 2020 hats could be green, “representing cash,” but has since said he’s sticking with red.
Like “Forward,” “Keep America Great” promises a continuation of the sitting president’s agenda, though it’s far more confident and braggadocious (imagine Obama running on “Yes We Did”). It dovetails with “Promises Made, Promises Kept,” the slogan Trump has used in banners at his rallies.
Trump was ambitious with his promises in 2016. He actually promised “everything” to voters at an event in North Dakota that May, and in New Hampshire in September he said he would “fulfill every single wish.”
Some of his more measurable promises, like repealing Obamacare and passing a massive infrastructure package, haven’t come to fruition yet. Trump vowed to not golf as president, but he’s spent about 200 days at his golf clubs since taking office. And he promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, but the U.S. has footed the bill and put up just 1.7 miles of fencing as of May. According to the Washington Post Fact Checker, he’s made 172 false claims about the wall being built, more than any other topic.
Trump seems aware of promises he has yet to keep, telling the crowd at a rally in Montoursville, Penn., in May that America will be made great again “by the time of the election,” giving himself some breathing room. And when speaking at the NRA Leadership Forum in Indianapolis in April, he framed “Keep America Great” as an anti-socialist message because, “you have socialists and far-left Democrats that want to destroy everything that we’ve done.”
If 2020 is a referendum on the incumbent, MAGA provides voters with a straightforward criteria for assessing whether he deserves another term. Has he delivered on his campaign promises? Is America more or less great since he took office? In KAG, Trump provides his answer in the affirmative, trademarked before he even started the job.