Donald Trump has had designs on the presidency for decades, but it’s fair to wager that not even he could have foreseen himself as the presumptive Republican nominee just a few years back. All you need to do is look at his Instagram, where he vlogged a short-lived campaign to host the Oscars last year and posted a pic with golf buddy Bill Clinton in 2014.
The fact that neither has been scrubbed from @realdonaldtrump since his presidential bid broke into the mainstream says something about both his campaign and his brand-building as a combative billionaire reality TV star — and how very difficult it is to disentangle the two.
Trump knows there’s no better platform for controlling the consumption of his image than on Instagram, where an uncompromised version of himself resonates as refreshingly unfiltered, translating to hearts and follows. In the political realm, only @barackobama’s 7.4 million followers best @realdonaldtrump’s 1.7 million. (In the world of celebrities, Trump’s Instagram constituency is exactly on par with the Canadian singer @carlyraejepsen’s). Still, Trump’s Instagram retains the showboating and bullying that has always defined it. The unifying feature is Trump the person and his interests as a mid-60s wealthy person.
The following are highlights from the 747 pictures he’s shared with the world so far.
April 9, 2013
Hello, world! Trump’s first post introduces his two most prevailing Insta-passions: the Trump children and the Trump golf courses. (Also: rich men with questionable relationships with women.)
April 9, 2013
A surreal harbinger, @realdonaldtrump’s second post is taken with America’s then-most famous personality-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has taken over hosting duties for Celebrity Apprentice.
April 10, 2013
A shot with Christian Bale, who appeared as Batman in The Dark Knight, which was apparently filmed at Trump Towers. But you bet Trump recognizes Bale from his role in American Psycho. In fact, just this year American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis told the New York Post, “I think Trump would be a father figure for [Bateman]. He would see a kindred spirit in the Donald Trump of today: Somebody who calls out bullshit when he sees it.”
April 10, 2013
More self-promotional family-golf love.
April 10, 2013
The inaugural Melania pic — wearing a bright blue dress unlikely to make an appearance on the Republican’s future campaign trail.
April 15, 2013
An unannounced #tbt with his sons and oft-rumored running mate Hulk Hogan.
April 18, 2013
A proper #tbt of @realdonaldtrump in period attire with baby Donald Trump Jr.
April 18, 2013
Back at @doralresort, the Trump-owned Miami-based golf resort, @ivankatrump posing on a Caterpillar backhoe.
June 10, 2013
Coccooned, in golf threads, by a dozen men with automatic rifles, @realdonaldtrump calls this backwoods New Jersey SWAT team “fantastic people!” Zeal for militaristic play is a theme.
June 11, 2013
The media flurry at this Trump golf course in Scotland looks like a petting zoo compared to 2016 press corps surrounding @realdonaldtrump.
August 15, 2013
The caption speaks for itself.
August 15, 2013
Another #tbt offering a glimpse of a young @realdonaldtrump, hinting, as he long has, at presidential ambitions in the claim that he “can be very military.”
July 18, 2013
Non-sequitur shout out to Nelson Mandela on his birthday!
November 19, 2013
Flummoxingly, @realdonaldtrump’s first video is an indictment of Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman.
December 5, 2013
Deja vu shout out to Nelson Mandela on his death!
December 12, 2013
Golfing with The Plastics: Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg, and Bill Clinton (plus Joe Torre and Billy Crystal).
May 19, 2014
After a sparse start to 2014, @realdonaldtrump is hitting the greens with @ivankatrump and a Dubai businessman he developed a property with—before all his anti-Muslim comments began.
Aug 7, 2014
Tennis makes a cameo as another sport appreciated by @realdonaldtrump.
Aug 13, 2014
Two series of likely intern-concocted posts dominate @realdonaldtrump’s 2014 output. One is the truism espousing #TrumpAdvice…
Oct 9, 2014
…The other is #TrumpVlog, sounding off on all the hot topics of the day. (Unclear whether this is a question appropriate for a crowdsourced answer, however.)
Jan 22, 2015
By the start of 2015, design is still pretty ad-hoc in the @realdonaldtrump’s social media department.
Feb 12, 2015
Meanwhile, @realdonaldtrump is still fondly recalling mingling with other celebrities.
Feb 19, 2015
Feb 23, 2015
Just a matter of months before announcing his candidacy, @realdonaldtrump was “running” to be the 2016 host of the Oscars in a series of #TrumpVlogs.
Apr 1, 2015
That’s not to say that #TrumpVlog wasn’t also keeping a foot in the door in the political realm.
Apr 16, 2015
Yet another photo (#tbt, mind you) with an adulated capitalist monster from fiction.
Jun 1, 2015
With a press clipping from Playboy peeking out from behind his shoulder, @realdonaldtrump cued the drumroll for his June 16th campaign announcement to an understandably underestimating public.
Jun 15, 2015
On the eve of his campaign announcement, @realdonaldtrump puts Jeb Bush in his crosshairs.
Jun 16, 2015
Version 1.0 of the campaign stage design is unveiled on the morning of the big announcement.
Jun 16, 2015
A brand new hashtag, one that would expand way further than the @realdonaldtrump Instagram community.
Jun 23, 2015
Months away from widely accepted viability, @realdonaldtrump begins sharing headlines on his Instagram that indicate he actually has a chance.
Jun 29, 2015
@realdonaldtrump disavows NBC in the wake of his remarks on immigration: “NBC is weak, and like everybody else trying to be politically correct — that is why our country is in serious trouble.”
Jul 11, 2015
In roughly a month, rallies have grown in attendance—from just a few hundred to, according to this caption, 15,000 people.
Jul 24, 2015
In what is probably the most aesthetically perfect post published by @realdonaldtrump, this picture has it all, including the plane, the SUV, the muscle, the hat and the pose.
Aug 7, 2015
With #MakeAmericaGreatAgain in full effect, the Trump clan looks indistinguishable from a morning news team as they wait for the infamous Megyn Kelly GOP Debate to begin.
Aug 20, 2015
@realdonaldtrump is thrilled: Finally, proof the mainstream media has full on bought in.
Sep 3, 2015
There is something disconcertingly homespun about @realdonaldtrump’s pledge not to run as an independent. Did he use a Sharpie to sign?
Sep 15, 2015
Still, to @realdonaldtrump’s seeming surprise, the crowds continue to grow…
Oct 25, 2015
…And grow. Notice @realdonaldtrump already starting claims that the media isn’t fairly covering his campaign: “I may as well show you because the media won’t.”
Dec 18, 2015
Dec 20, 2015
But no amount of wealth or spending can make @realdonaldtrump’s feed feel refined. It retains a discombobulated, computer skills-era design sense.
Dec 24, 2015
And @realdonaldtrump never abandons his love for situating himself in the cosmos of not just capitalist Americana, but of popular entertainment—even as he aspires for his campaign to be taken more seriously.
Dec 27, 2015
@realdonaldtrump reminding you of his aggregate “social media outreach,” a number which means virtually nothing.
Jan 5, 2016
Fresh into 2016, the #TrumpTrain rolls into the station with disingenuous overtures to non-white Americans. Not to mention design taken straight from the pages of a stock images site.
Jan 6, 2016
The next day the #TrumpTrain doubles down on the diversity of his supporters.
Jan 8, 2016
And yet, other members of the #TrumpTrain have a more uniform appearance.
Feb 25, 2016
A tower of computer paper casts shade on Mitt Romney and those that would resist @realdonaltrump.
Mar 17, 2016
But more and more, @realdonaldtrump’s feed is increasingly weaponized against the competition…
Apr 11, 2016
…while @realdonaldtrump merrily documents the dissolution of the Republican party.
May 5, 2016
@realdonaldtrump’s excitement about a Cinco De Mayo taco bowl is interesting to many, considering his comments about Mexicans and immigration. Many, many people parody his “I love Hispanics!” Instagram, accidentally spawning a meme he perhaps didn’t quite mean to create.
May 11, 2016
@realdonaldtrump re-grams a fan’s interpretation of the #TrumpTrain, proving that not even the most disintegrated image macro is not too obscure for the feed.
May 17, 2016
*thinking man emoji*
May 26, 2016
But no matter the fanfare, @realdonaldtrump celebrates his presumed nomination by eating McDonalds alone on his private jet. He is rich and successful; he is just like you.
Kevin McGarry is an L.A.-based arts writer. His work has appeared in T Magazine, Art in America, Artforum and Interview.