Donald J. Trump’s political opponents have long criticized him as something of a cartoon character. On Thursday, the former president made himself into one — but with the aim of turning a profit.
In his first significant public move since opening his 2024 presidential campaign last month, Mr. Trump announced an online store to sell $99 digital trading cards of himself as a superhero, an astronaut, an Old West sheriff and a series of other fantastical figures. He made his pitch in a brief, direct-to-camera video in which he audaciously declared that his four years in the White House were “better than Lincoln, better than Washington.”
The sale of the trading cards, which Mr. Trump had promoted a day earlier as a “major announcement” on his social media website, Truth Social, perplexed some of his advisers and drew criticism from some fellow conservatives.
“Whoever told Trump to do this should be fired,” Keith and Kevin Hodge, two Trump supporters and stand-up comedians, posted on Twitter.
“Man, when all Patriots are looking for is hope for the future of our country and Trump hypes everybody up with a ‘BIG ANNOUNCEMENT’ then drops a low-quality NFT collection video as the ‘announcement,’ it just pushes people away,” they said in another post.
What to Know About Donald Trump Today
Donald J. Trump is running for president again, being investigated by a special counsel again and he’s back on Twitter. Here’s what to know about some of the latest developments involving the former president:
Documents investigation. A team hired by Mr. Trump found at least two items with classified markings at a Florida storage site, a person familiar with the matter said. The discovery came as searches were conducted after a judge directed Mr. Trump’s lawyers to look for classified materials.
Georgia Senate runoff. The defeat of Herschel Walker — the former football star and Mr. Trump’s handpicked candidate — left Republicans reckoning with questions about their path forward and trading blame for their bruising losses. Much of it landed on Mr. Trump.
Trump Organization trial. Mr. Trump’s family business was convicted of tax fraud and other financial crimes by a Manhattan jury. The guilty verdict was a remarkable rebuke of the former president’s company and what prosecutors described as its “culture of fraud and deception.”
“Termination” of the Constitution. In an extraordinary antidemocratic statement, Mr. Trump suggested the “termination” of the Constitution to overturn the 2020 election. The explicit suggestion drew a degree of bipartisan condemnation, but many Republicans were silent.
Embracing extremism. Mr. Trump has been embracing extremist elements in American society even more unabashedly than in the past, including hosting a dinner for Kanye West, a rap star under fire for antisemitic statements, and Nick Fuentes, a prominent white supremacist.
The digital trading cards cost far more than the $20 that Mr. Trump often asks his supporters to contribute.
But Mr. Trump’s campaign won’t earn any money from the digital cards, which he describes as akin to baseball cards but are actually nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, that effectively allow a person to claim ownership of a digital file.
Money from the digital cards will instead be pocketed by Mr. Trump under a licensing deal, a fact that some of his aides acknowledged and expressed concern about. They worry that the move could dilute small-dollar donations to his presidential effort.
Incentives to buy the cards include entry into a series of sweepstakes to meet Mr. Trump or golf at one of his properties. Customers who buy 45 cards can receive a ticket to a gala at a Trump resort in South Florida.
“I’ll also be doing Zoom calls, one-on-one meetings, autographing memorabilia and so much more,” Mr. Trump says in the video.
The former president had banked $100 million before his presidential announcement across several political accounts, but none of that money may be used to finance his candidacy directly.
At the same time, Mr. Trump’s aides released, to a friendly Twitter user, a video of the former president in which he makes promises about cracking down on online censorship if he reclaims his old office. But Mr. Trump’s direct pitch for the trading cards underscored how secondary his campaign for president has seemed to his personal efforts over the last month.
For a day, Republicans and even some Democrats speculated about what Mr. Trump might have planned for his major announcement, assuming it related to his campaign or even the race for House speaker. The disbelief at the ultimate announcement was palpable.
The company selling the cards, NFT INT L.L.C., was founded in February in Delaware, according to public records. The trading card website lists a company address that corresponds to a mailbox in a UPS Store in Park City, Utah.
On the site, the company notes that it is “not owned, managed or controlled by Donald J. Trump” and says that it uses his name, likeness and image “under paid license” from a company called CIC Digital L.L.C., which was formed in April 2021 at an address that matches the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to public records. Public records show that a company called CIC Ventures LLC, founded in 2021, has Nick Luna, a former assistant to Mr. Trump, and John Marion, one of the former president’s lawyers, as directors.
The website promises that buyers of cards will be entered in a sweepstakes “for a chance to win 1000’s of incredible prizes and meet the one and only #45!” Fine print on the site indicates that the sum value of all the prizes is $54,695 but also states that the dollar value for a 20-minute meeting with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago is “priceless.” It also indicates that winners of face-to-face meetings will have to cover their own travel and lodging costs to get to Mar-a-Lago.
Mr. Trump announced the trading cards by declaring that “America needs a superhero” and promoting a card that shows him in a Superman-type pose, ripping off a shirt to reveal a superhero costume.
The former president has long been fascinated by the idea of being portrayed as Superman. At his 50th birthday party, a cake decorated with a skyline included a cutout of a Superman-like figure with Mr. Trump’s head attached to the body.
More recently, during the 2020 campaign, when Mr. Trump was recuperating from the coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he told aides he wanted to be brought out of the hospital in a wheelchair, wearing a Superman T-shirt underneath his white dress shirt, with a plan to stand up and rip the dress shirt open.
Aides talked him out of it, and his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, devoted several lines of his White House memoir to falsely claiming Mr. Trump had never wanted such a thing.
Alexandra Berzon and Ken Bensinger contributed reporting.