Ben and Melissa Arnold wasted no time. The couple from Ohio landed at Reagan National Airport earlier this month, rented a car and drove straight to Total Party, a big Halloween costume purveyor two miles away.
Their plan: Buy Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton masks. Wear them the next day on the Mall. Take selfies of one another at each iconic monument — Ben as Trump, Melissa as Clinton. And post every photo on Facebook.
“I told her about the idea on the plane, and she said, ‘Heck, yeah. We’re doing it,’ ” said Ben Arnold, 36, a chemical plant operator.
The Arnolds, Republicans from Marietta, Ohio, who were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary in Washington, couldn’t resist a little pre-election fun — or maybe fright.
And they help explain the hordes of people who, after such an ugly campaign season, will go to parties or knock on doors Monday wearing latex or foam masks of this year’s highly unpopular presidential candidates. Because these masks, they are nasty: The various Trump offerings — made in China and Mexico — show a man with a screaming mouth, face aflame and eyes squinting in fury. The Clinton likenesses aren’t flattering, either. One company’s version shows the former secretary of state with greenish teeth, wrinkles galore and a very, very creepy smile.
In normal presidential election/Halloween cycles, the best-selling mask is the candidate who goes on to take the White House, according to Halloween costume executives.
This year, though, it may be just the opposite.
Spirit Halloween, the world’s largest retailer specializing in Halloween attire, teamed up with Harris Poll, which surveyed 2,000 American adults in late August and came up with several “key findings,” announced in a press release headlined, “Spirit Halloween to Predict Results of the Most Frightening Presidential Election Yet.” The top reason people would choose Trump for Halloween is to be funny, whereas the No. 1 reason they’d dress up as Hillary is that they like her. The Harris Poll also found that twice as many Americans who want to dress up as Trump say they’d do it to mock him.
Spirit Halloween makes it especially easy to parody Trump, given that its collection includes masks called “Loud Mouth Donald Trump Mask,” “Cry Baby Trump Mask,” and “Tax Evasion Trump Mask.” (Cry Baby and Tax Evasion are made of foam and cost $12.99. But Loud Mouth, which is made of latex, is $29.99.)
Over at Rubie’s, the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of Halloween costumes, the “Donald Latex Mask” is outselling the “Hillary Latex Mask” by a ratio of 3 to 1, said Howie Beige, the company’s executive vice president. Though Rubie’s didn’t partner with any polling outfit, Beige said based on his company’s sales and his conversations with numerous retailers selling his masks, he knows that a large percentage of people are buying the “Donald Latex Mask” to ridicule Trump.
“I think you’re going to find a lot of people wearing the Donald mask, calling themselves ‘The Grabber,’ ” said Beige, referring to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged that he can “grab” women “by the p---y.” “You’re not going to have people just put on the Trump mask and walk around as Trump. You’ll see a twist. Like with the Richard Nixon mask. Most of the time people wore that with a prison outfit.”
And yet, the Arnolds weren’t hate-buying their “Billionaire Tycoon Mask” from Total Party in Crystal City, Va. They are leaning toward voting for Trump in the crucial swing state of Ohio.
As they put on their Trump and Clinton masks by the Lincoln Memorial and began taking selfies, some tourists stopped and gawked. This being the smartphone era, people also took pictures of the Arnolds taking pictures of themselves. But not everyone got the joke.
“This is just weird,” said Karen Pajotte, a nurse and undecided voter from Rhode Island, who began wincing. “The election this year is kind of a joke.”
Just then, a crowd of thick-chested men swarmed around the Arnolds on the Lincoln Memorial steps, posing for a group shot with the fake Trump and fake Clinton. They were international military members from Egypt and other countries, training at the National Defense University’s Joint Forces Staff College.
When a reporter approached, they quickly dispersed.
“One of the guys said to me, ‘You represent America well!’ ” said Ben, removing his Trump mask for a breather.
His Trump mask is an especially alarming one and raises an important question: Why does the mask’s manufacturer — H.M. Smallwares or HMS, based in Canada — call it “The Billionaire Tycoon Mask” and not “The Donald Trump Mask?”
Lorenzo Caltagirone, the longtime owner of Total Party, praised HMS’s $24.95 Trump mask as by far the most realistic on the market, which is why he sells it. But he wondered whether HMS is worried about potential litigation with the Trump empire over branding the mask with Trump’s name.
Reached by phone, Mark Feigelman, a co-owner of HMS, said he didn’t know why.
“We just decided to call it ‘The Billionaire Tycoon Mask.’ There’s no reason,” Feigelman said, “I really gotta go.”
Over at Fun World, another large Halloween costume maker, the Trump mask is called “The Combover,” one of three in its “Political Pundit Mask Assortment,” the others being the “Barry” and “Hellary” masks. But R.J. Torbert, the company’s licensing director (who moonlights as a horror novelist), said legal concerns didn’t play a role in avoiding the use of the Trump name.
“He is, after all, a public figure,” Torbert said. “It was simple, we felt that it was a good name, due to the way he combs his hair, and the fact he is a candidate. This also separates us from the rest of the field with the names they used.”
On their way from the Lincoln Memorial to the National World War II Memorial, Ben and Melissa Arnold ran into a man wearing a blindfold with his arms outstretched, giving out free hugs to anyone.
As he approached the hugger, Ben was psyched. He turned to his wife. He knew exactly what he was going to do. “I’m going mask on,” he said.