Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung, a former White House staffer and Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) promoter, wasn’t always a hardline MAGA man. Cheung worked for former California Governor and mega movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger and later helped the late old school GOP Senator John McCain run for President, ultimately falling to Barack Obama.
But something flipped a switch in Cheung that saw him pair up with Donald Trump in 2016 — either a switch flipped or it was a natural fit all along.
Many point to Cheung’s time with the UFC and his recognition that, even beyond the celebrity of Schwarzenegger, sheer showmanship was the critical political faculty. Trump, he saw, possessed that quality in a way common to pro fighters: he was pugilistic, insulting, brash, hyperbolic, unafraid of the preposterous — and quick to turn the tables for the ultimate dig.
Cheung is doing just that kind of table-turning on social media this week, trying to galvanize support around Trump’s Fulton County mugshot. To that end, with great snark and in an absolute first for anyone associated with Trump, he thanks the mainstream media.
Cheung thanks by name “MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, NY Times, Wash Post and every other outlet” for “displaying” Trump’s mugshot, which the Trump 2024 campaign has used to raise money for his campaign. Promoting the photo as a badge of honor rather than, as many perceive it, a moment of shame, Cheung sees every publication — unpaid “display” — of the photo as free advertising.
Thank you to MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, NY Times, Wash Post and every other outlet for displaying Pres. Trump’s mug shot.— Steven Cheung (@TheStevenCheung) August 27, 2023
Campaign broke fundraising records and big lead in the polls continue to grow.
Please continue to show it. Download the hi-res version here for broadcast/print. pic.twitter.com/9JsYjBW6Cu
(NOTE: Trump far and away leads the attention economy, getting more media coverage than any other public figure by orders of magnitude — Cheung, among many others, hopes to cash in on the former President’s notoriety and the unpaid media it generates, as such coverage is known.)
But there remains plenty of argument in the explosive comments section about whether the photo represents shame or honor — and about whether Cheung’s attempt to spin it as a free ad is effective or off base and insulting to American justice.
MAGA commenters often dominate Cheung’s feed and the feedback there, but the push to capitalize on the Fulton County mugshot saw more resistance from the other side. “You know that won’t help him in court, right?” wrote one.
You know that won't help him in court, right?— Tim Williams (@TimAlunWilliams) August 28, 2023
Others chimed in: “Sounds like a nice little business for you folks to run once you’re knocked out of the campaign! Have fun” and “Lmao a ‘rich’ man asking his supporters for money…and they willing give it too him while they have unpaid and past due balances on their utilities…what a time to be alive.”
That last commenter is speaking about the phenomenon below, as a MAGA supporter confirms Cheung’s play is working. (The campaign is said to have raised $7+million since the release of the photo.)
Happy to say I made 3 contributions since it was released. MAGA!— Rusty Shackleford (@sumpdweller) August 27, 2023
X user Steve Metz wonders aloud whether Trump’s legal problems really can be spun like a UFC narrative.
“I still find it absolutely bizarre that trumpists assume their cult leader’s legal travails were a political move and thus are giddy claiming that it ‘backfired,’ he writes. “In reality the legal system is treating him like anyone else irrespective of partisan politics.”
I still find it absolutely bizarre that trumpists assume their cult leader's legal travails were a political move and thus are giddy claiming that it "backfired." In reality the legal system is treating him like anyone else irrespective of partisan politics.— Steve Metz (@steven_metz) August 28, 2023