Trump wants his mug shot to be a badge of honor. Will it help him or haunt him?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Donald Trump’s mug shot, the first photograph of its kind ever captured of an American president, instantly became one of the defining images of this political era when it was released by law enforcement in Georgia on Thursday night.

The photo was taken after Trump turned himself in at Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail to be booked on 13 felony charges stemming from his efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state in the 2020 presidential election. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis also charged 18 other people for their alleged role in the scheme.

Though Trump has been indicted in three other criminal cases, this was the first time authorities opted to take his mug shot and release it to the public. The image quickly became inescapable in the news media and online, serving as fodder for political hot takes, humorous memes and even artisanal craft sales.

Trump himself used the photo to make his first post on X, formerly called Twitter, in more than two and a half years. His presidential campaign has also begun selling merchandise featuring the image.

Why there’s debate

So far, polls suggest that the collection of criminal indictments against Trump haven’t significantly changed his prospects of winning the presidency again. But political observers from both sides of the aisle say the mug shot could still make a major difference.

Many of Trump’s detractors say the photo makes the gravity of his alleged criminality much more concrete than any news story chronicling the often complicated cases against him ever could, especially for key swing voters who only casually follow politics. Some also argue that the mug shot will be so inescapable throughout the campaign that it will drill the vision of Trump as a criminal into voters’ minds.

But others say the former president has already used his mug shot to further promote the view that he’s being unfairly attacked by his political enemies, giving him an even stronger advantage over his GOP primary rivals. Trump’s biggest fans also believe that his expression, which they say shows his determination in the face of persecution, will serve as a more effective campaign poster than his creative team could ever come up with.

What’s next

While it’s not yet clear when Trump and his co-defendants might stand trial in the Georgia case, the former president already has a jam-packed calendar of court dates in his other trials that are scheduled to be held in the thick of the Republican primary season.


Images cut through the noise in a way that news stories can’t

​​”In its concrete reality, the Fulton County mug shot may seem more irrevocable than anything else that has happened in the Trump cases thus far. … While very few voters are likely to have read any of the Trump indictments in full, they will almost all definitely see the mug shot.” — Vanessa Friedman, New York Times

The mug shot is a gift to Trump

“Let us, from a purely pragmatic sense, game out the following: If you were a liberal prosecutor hellbent on ending Trump's career as the former (and possibly future) leader of the free world, why would you want to deliver him the most iconic campaign poster in political history?” — Tiana Lowe Doescher, Washington Examiner

Trump’s mug shot will haunt him forever

“It’s not something he can click away. It’s not something he can simply brush off. That moment is going to live on. And it’s entirely possible that it will end up as the image that history preserves of this man.” — Mitchell Stephens, professor of journalism and mass communication at New York University, to Associated Press

Trump is savvy enough to turn the photo into a badge of honor

“He took a low point in American history and turned it into an iconic triumph because he understands media and is biologically incapable of feeling shame. Those powers make him a host unto himself and this mugshot is a warning to all of us. We underestimate Trump at our peril.” — Jonathan V. Last, Bulwark

Anyone who is impressed by the mug shot is already deeply devoted to him

“This photo will be shared on every text thread in America. Sometimes, images are more persuasive than anything. And it is hard to imagine that this image, of Trump scowling into the police camera, will make him more appealing to anyone who is not already a hardcore supporter.” — Jen Psaki, MSNBC

Unlike most defendants, Trump was granted the chance to craft his ideal image

“Folks without power, they’re criminalized. They don’t have much say about it. But folks who have a lot of power get to redefine that picture. … Politicians know it’s not about the picture, it’s about the moment. So they can change the meaning of that moment to suit their needs.” — Mary Angela Bock, journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to NPR

Most voters made up their minds about Trump long ago

“It's not really a victory for anybody, this photograph, but lots of us will insist on reading it that way.” — Vinson Cunningham, New Yorker

Credit: Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office