These MAGA Influencers Hope They Still Have Something to Sell
Sephora dropped YouTuber Amanda Ensing after she posted QAnon theories and seemingly supported the Capitol rioters. Can MAGA-aligning influencers ever make a mainstream comeback?
At first glance, it looks like the website for any other millennial-friendly cosmetics line: a sans serif font, calming brick red and soft grey color scheme, and the hyped-up promise: “New Products Announcing THIS WEEK!”
But check the URL, and you will quickly find an agenda. The brand, founded by beauty YouTuber Amanda Ensing, aims to “Make Makeup Great Again.”
“Makeup shouldn’t be political,” Ensing told Fox Business this week, ignoring the many ways Donald Trump’s administration persistently attacked BIPOC, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community—all major makeup consumers.
“There are so many conservatives who feel like they’re alienated, feel like they are terrified to speak about their support for their conservative views, religious views, and I want to make a space that’s inclusive of everyone,” Ensing added during the interview.
Whether Ensing was “alienated” or held accountable for her actions this week ultimately depends on who you’re asking—and their politics. The Nashville-based influencer, who amassed 1.4 million followers through sharing her lipstick routine and a hearty dose of sponcon, pivoted to peddling QAnon conspiracy theories last year.
After Ensing tweeted in support of the Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, many former fans and followers questioned why the beauty chain Sephora continued to sponsor videos from Ensing as recently as last week. (That partnership was set up by rewardStyle, a company that connects brands and influencers. Neither Ensing nor rewardStyle responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)
There were calls to #BoycottSephora for its support of Ensing, which the LVMH-owned company did after getting wind of the backlash.
As Insider reported, Ensing then reclaimed #BoycottSephora, saying she was the victim of a liberal-led attempt to silence conservatives.
“I’ve not condoned violence, never will,” she said in an Instagram video, adding, “I am not racist, I am not homophobic, I am not a white supremacist, I am not part of some violent group.”
A spokesperson for Sephora sent a statement to The Daily Beast: “We were recently made aware of concerning behavior by Ms. Ensing on her social platforms. Most recently, she made light of the violence and tragic loss of life at our nation’s Capitol last month. For this reason, we made the decision to cease all programming with her indefinitely, including having the video she created through an external vendor, taken down.
“Any claim that this decision was made on the basis of political or religious beliefs is inaccurate, we respect each individual’s right to have their own perspectives and freedom of expression. However, Sephora reserves the right to terminate any partnership we deem inappropriate for our brand.”
The representative added, “Ms. Ensing has also suggested that Sephora has attempted to silence her, which is not accurate. Sephora has not had any direct contact with Amanda or her legal team. Her contract, including but not limited to terms of payment and disclosure protocols are all handled by RewardStyle, a partner of Sephora. We take this seriously and are working to ensure all future influencer outreach, content and partnerships are subjected to tighter controls.”
This week, Ensing made the rounds on outlets like Newsmax and Fox, insisting again that she was dropped for being a conservative, not encouraging or inciting any violence.
Her Instagram feed, once filled with outfits of the day, swiftly became a carousel of MAGA messaging. She posted a meme mocking White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s habit of saying, “I’ll circle back on that” with the caption, “Can we circle back on inclusivity?”
LVMH, the conglomerate that owns Sephora, has not always been staunchly anti-Trump. In 2019, LVMH CEO and chairman Bernard Arnault accompanied the former president to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Louis Vuitton factory in Johnson County, Texas.
The sight of a major fashion brand working closely with the president when so many designers had criticized his policies raised a few eyebrows and earned a tepid condemnation from the artistic director for womenswear at Louis Vuitton. But it never became a full-blown controversy.
As Ensing’s perceived victimhood tour continues, she will have ample opportunity to hawk her upcoming makeup line. As of press time, specifics of the launch are under wraps, though one “Featured Product” is a $59 “Cozy Crewneck” emblazoned with the brand’s name.
What’s left for a beauty or wellness influencer who’s gone—or been exposed as—full MAGA? Ensing herself admitted in past videos that she used to keep her political leanings under wraps and out of sight to keep the focus on her makeup looks.
The poster girl for the far-right influencer’s dilemma may very well be Trump’s own daughter Ivanka, who seemingly learned over the past four years that one cannot co-exist as MAGA flack and innocuous style queen online.
When she first joined her father’s campaign, Ivanka’s Instagram account was a steady stream of baby photos and “inspirational,” white feminist-friendly quotes. But in the last four years, her content slowly began to skew into more overt propaganda-territory.
It was once possible for influencers to hide their true leanings behind mile-long eyelashes and positive affirmations; violence at the Capitol and a looming impeachment make that much more difficult.
“[Influencers who support rioters or QAnon] have lost trust and turned off a lot of their followers,” Mae Karwowski, the founder and CEO of Obviously, an influencer agency, told The Daily Beast. “Both brands and followers are looking for influencers who share their beliefs and values. It’s one thing to be politically conservative, but it’s entirely another to post content that’s based on bigotry, lies, or debunked conspiracy theories.”
It could be impossible, or at least very hard for an influencer like Ensing to attempt a mainstream comeback—if she even wants one, that is. “None of the major brands we work with are going to work with an influencer who posts toxic or dangerous content. And once you put that content out there, it lives on the internet forever,” Karwowski said.
Some influencers could “double down” and turn their brand into all things Trump to tap into that audience. As Karwowski put it, “People are self-segmenting, and it shows up really clearly on social media.”
Karwowski said her company “thoroughly vets” every influencer to avoid the kind of Ensing drama Sephora now has to deal with. “We look at their most recent content, of course, but over the last year we’ve been going back even further into their feeds. That level of vetting is built into our campaigns as a way to offer as much brand safety as possible,” she said.
Bruce Newman, a professor of marketing at DePaul University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Political Marketing, believes that MAGA influencers will have plenty to sell even during the Biden administration.
“As long as Donald Trump is alive, there is a future for merchandise, ideas, and every other manifestation of his personal,” Newman said. “He’s still continuing to be a force in politics. His brand has been dented and damaged, but it’s still usable and functioning and attractive to a lot of people. He’s in a position to allow people to make money off of him.”
Keenan, a 16 year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma who runs the Trump merch site The Patriotic Products, told The Daily Beast over email that he has no plans to stop selling items carrying the former president’s image.
“MAGA influencers can still make money selling MAGA products,” he wrote in an email. “The Trump base is riled up now more than ever. We will not stop supporting our president, and in return will continue buying pro-Trump merch.” (Keenan asked that his last name not be published.)
Keenan added that the most popular products on his site currently are Trump-branded coins and rings. “I believe these items are so popular because they’re not Trump 2020 or 2024 products, but they are pieces of memorabilia to remember one of the greatest presidents of all time,” he wrote.
Cara Dumaplin, aka @TakingCaraBabies, is a so-called “baby sleep expert,” who sells classes and products and has more than one million Instagram followers. Vox reported last week on a scandal that threatened her momosphere reign: Dumaplin and her husband had donated to Trump’s campaign.
Some former fans were devastated to learn this news; they felt betrayed by the woman who helped them during their most vulnerable moments as parents. More than one tweet wondered how a mommy blogger could condone a president whose immigration policy kept kids in cages.
Dumaplin would not comment to The Daily Beast, but her representative sent a statement that read, “I’m in the business of helping babies get sleep and parents reclaiming the joy of parenthood that’s often lost due to sleep deprivation—which has nothing to do with politics. Between 2016 and 2019, I made a series of donations (totaling $1,078) to the Trump campaign. As with many citizens, there were aspects of the Trump Administration that I agreed with and some that I disagreed with. When your baby is up in the middle of the night and you’re exhausted, that’s the most important thing in your world—not who is in the White House. I will continue to stay focused on my mission of serving all parents by empowering them with the tools they need to help their babies sleep.”
Dumaplin did not answer follow-up questions about what “aspects of the Trump administration” she supported. She also did not reveal what she would say to parents who were immigrants, LGBTQ, BIPOC, or otherwise impacted by Trump’s policies.
Still, after weathering a storm of bad tweets, Dumaplin seems, well, fine. She would not say if her business had been impacted by the revelation. She keeps posting sleep tips on Instagram, business-as-usual. It does not appear likely that she’ll release a Making Cribs Great Again line.
As Vox’s Rebecca Jennings put it, “Taking Cara Babies is not the root cause of America’s political problems, and a woman donating to the Trump campaign does not negate her ability to give useful advice on baby sleep training.” (Of course, Dumaplin has not publicly supported QAnon or the Capitol rioters like Ensing has. So maybe she has not crossed some line in the eyes of a mainstream audience.)
Karwowski, who runs the influencer agency, added that while “mainstream, major brands” probably won’t line up to work with a questionable influencer, there will be opportunities for Ensing to work with companies that have aligned with Trump. “MyPillow, for example,” she said.