“Hey Google, play country music on Spotify.”
On cue, music started and Bob Holmes settled into tracing a black, white, and blue butterfly design for Crystal Goutheir, of Amesbury, Massachusetts. This is Crystal’s third butterfly tattoo, inspired by a butterfly she saw that reminded her of her late mother. Appropriately, it was the day before Mother’s Day. Holmes has tattooed many butterflies, but he’s most famous for tattoos of Donald Trump.
It was a misty, overcast afternoon in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a small coastal town only 6 miles from the summer tourist haven Hampton Beach. Holmes prepared his only tattoo of the day inside The Clay Dragon Tattoo Studio, a shop nestled in a strip plaza selling adult videos, fireworks, and comic books. The shop was clean and smelled like incense, and Hellboy was playing on the television. There’s a massive airbrushed mural of dragons surrounding Clayton Gould, Holmes’ late brother-in-law whom he named the shop after. There are also framed World War II-era posters with slogans like “United Nations Fight For Freedom” and “United We Are Strong, United We Will Win.”
The Clay Dragon Tattoo Studio is in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, and true to swing state form, was fairly divided in the 2016 presidential election. The county ultimately turned red, with Trump winning 50.5 percent of the votes. The town of Seabrook, home to about 13,000 residents, also swung to the right, clocking 2,743 votes for Trump and 1,595 for Clinton.
Inside this tattoo shop, it’s Trump country.
In the summer of 2016, Holmes gained national and international attention for offering free Trump tattoos ahead of the presidential election. “It was accidental,” Holmes said of the promotion. When a reporter from the U.K.’s Telegraph asked him how he’d react if someone wanted a Donald Trump tattoo, Holmes replied off-the-cuff that he’d do it for free. The response went viral, and his appointment book quickly filled up with dozens of requests for Trump portraits and Make America Great Again script. There was a Trump stamp—a lower back tattoo flanked by tribal designs—and a custom “super Trump.”
Prior to Trump’s presidential run, Holmes said he had no interest in politics and had never voted. “I never said a political word in my whole entire life before this one,” Holmes said. “Getting somebody somewhat normal, like us, is the key.”
Holmes offered the free Trump tattoo promotion for one year and his shop has completed 78 Trump tattoos.
The clientele is a mix of both Holmes’ regulars and Trump fans across the country. “I’ve had ’em from Tennessee, from Florida, Texas,” Holmes said. There was even one Albanian man in his mid-twenties who got a Trump portrait on his calf, he added.
The response, Holmes said, has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve got like 300 friends from around the nation now. It’s pretty funny, they hit me up like, ‘Oh I just want you to know I appreciate what you’re doing and you’re a patriot.’” Holmes laughs, “I’m not a patriot, I just want to do what’s best for this country because this country’s not doing well. It wasn’t doing well, it’s doing a lot better now.”
Bill Fowler, 48, an Army veteran and father of 12, agrees. That’s why he got “Make America Great Again” tattooed on his arm.
“Nobody’s saying ‘I’m going to punch you because you have a Donald Trump tattoo,’” Fowler said. “I want to make America great. This is my statement, he just happened to coin it. I want America to be great don’t you? Everyone wants America to be great, and we’re not anymore.”
Fowler’s Trump-inspired ink wasn’t his first go under the needle. “Truth” is scrawled across one forearm and “Justice” on the other. He’s tattooed “We The People” on his own leg. He also has a skull and bones, a dragon, and The Lorax, a character from a Dr. Seuss book of the same name.
Fowler has no regrets about his “Make America Great Again” tattoo, and said veterans in particular “are 100 percent for it. They always ask ‘Where’d you get it, how much did it cost?’”
The only negative feedback Fowler said he’s received is from his own brother, a Democrat who told him, “unfortunately the tattoo is free but removals are expensive.” Fowler said there’s no chance he’ll get it removed.
Half a mile away, James Cook, 48, a cigar salesman, bears a forearm tattoo from Holmes of the constitution with “Make America Great Again” in script. Cook, who refers to himself as a “Constitutionalist,” says getting a Trump tattoo wasn’t a rash decision. “In college, back in 1990, I had big posters of him in my dorm and stuff,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was one of those bandwagon jumpers. I was waiting for him to run for decades.”
Cook got his tattoo ahead of the election, and said even if Trump would have lost, he wouldn’t have regretted it.
“Tattoos aren’t a political statement, they’re like postcards.”
He likened himself to a suitcase covered in stickers and memories.
“I’m luggage!” he laughed.
Cook said he’s gotten “tons” of positive reactions from his tattoo, but also his truck. “The back of my truck is all Trump stickers, I got the trump shirts and I wave the trump flags. Driving around in my Trump truck with my tattoo I’ve never had a negative response, not once. I always get honks and thumbs ups.” Cook then admitted that once when walking into a grocery store an elderly woman saw his “Make America Great Again” hat and told him “If you think he’s going to do that, you’re full of shit.”
“People can say he’s a buffoon, he’s a TV personality, and all these things.” Cook said. “That might be the case, but he’s also very smart, he’s got a lot of business acumen; He’s the right guy for the job.”
To date, Holmes knows of only one Trump tattoo he’s done that’s has been covered. The recipient, who asked not to be named in this article, had “reTRUMPlican” tattooed across the arch of her foot. It’s since been replaced with a red rose and with swirling greenery by another artist at one of Holmes’ three tattoo shops. “The ink did not hold, so instead of touching it up, I decided to cover it,” she said. Despite this, she clarified, she’s still a “100 percent Trump fan.”
Holmes has been tattooing in his New Hampshire shops for nearly 30 years and is covered in tattoos. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have a Trump tattoo himself.
“I’m waiting for Trump to come by and sign my arm, then I’ll do his signature,” he said.