Where do all those Jeb!-festooned tees, cufflinks, and yard signs go when the game is lost? To the Girl Scouts, obviously.
Last week, Hammerstone, a company that sells tchotchkes and apparel—you know, like golf shirts festooned with corporate logos—sent out a rather curious email. Hammerstone, which sometimes works with political campaigns, wrote to announce it had on hand a heft of surplus gear from the presidential campaigns of Jeb(!) Bush and Marco Rubio. The items for sale, the email noted, included such indispensables as Criquet polo shirts, cufflinks, challenge coins, and drinkware, all emblazoned with the logos of two long-defunct campaigns. The Hammerstone advertisement spoke of a “bulk discount” and it had the feel of some strange post-mortal spasm—the last twitch of two long-gone candidates who, at one time, seemed like the future of the GOP. In the 18 months since it became obvious that neither Bush nor Rubio were going to win the 2016 election, their excess items have been languishing in a warehouse. “We just hadn’t paid much attention” to the leftover stuff, one Hammerstone employee tells me.
Hammerstone’s attempt to unburden itself of the merchandise has generated some confusion. On Tuesday—after Hammerstone put out word of its big blowout sale—employees awoke to no small number of emails from citizens who remembered that the Florida governor, who considers himself something of a guacamole connoisseur, had once offered on his site a $75 serving bowl. Alas, the bowl wasn’t produced by Hammerstone and was not contained in the aging cache—but the fact of its existence (and its enduring appeal) proves how bizarre and diversified the campaign merch business has gotten. Indeed, yard signs and buttons look quaint in a new market that now includes things like “Grillary Clinton” cookout accessories and “NSA spy cam blockers,” which were briefly peddled by the Rand Paul campaign as a jab at Hillary Clinton.
How did we get here? According to Jason Worrix, director of My Campaign Store, a vendor and printer that serviced the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Scott Walker during the 2016 race, told me that the merchandise business isn’t really about raising cash for campaigns—it’s about winning attention. And the sheer number of folks vying for office these days means that campaigns “are always trying to push the envelope.” “As the space gets more crowded, you have to think of ways to separate yourself from everyone else,” Worrix says. “Like the Republican primary—that was kind of a mess.” Plus, he adds, technological advances in printing mean that there are ever increasing possibilities of just what you can slap a candidate’s name on. (His craziest request? A stress ball molded in the shape of a candidate’s head.)
Worrix notes that he’s had a slew of campaign managers reach out for quotes for the 2020 presidential race.
So what happens with all the stuff that a company like Hammerstone can’t sell? Campaign volunteers are usually gifted the T-shirts and other basic apparel: a Republican operative who worked on the Rubio campaign tells me that kind of merch is given out first to volunteers, with the rest donated to someplace like Goodwill. Similarly, Moira Muntz of the Bernie Sanders campaign says they were able to get rid of most stuff by sending it to volunteers. As for leftover yard signs, Worrix says he encourages campaigns to give them to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts—“they do a lot of craft projects,” he says, “and it’s easy just to slap their own posters over campaign signage.” And what of the guacamole bowl, with its “rustic charcoal coloring” and “iconic 3-legged design”? A Jeb campaign source—yes, this person actually requested to go on background to discuss a guacamole bowl—says, unfortunately, they “gave them away to staff.”
And finally, some things just go in the trash. The Hammerstone employee tells me that when it comes to merch listed in the email, “we’re probably not going to have a lot at the end of the day,” so they may very well “just throw the rest away.”
Worrix notes that he’s had a slew of campaign managers reach out for quotes for the 2020 presidential race. He won’t say on behalf of whom, but they might consider heeding the example of the guy now sitting in the Oval Office, who staked his winning campaign not on challenge coins or cufflinks or koozies—but hats. Lots, and lots, of hats.
Elaina Plott is a staff writer at Washingtonian magazine.
Donald Trump is F*cking Crazy
MORE STORIES LIKE THIS ONE
- The Enemy Within – Handelsblatt Global
- Donald Trump Just Raised Expectations That He’ll Campaign Against Jeff Flake
- Is Scott Pruitt on the campaign trail?
- Appraising The Trove Of Trump, Clinton Campaign Memorabilia
- POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: David Shafer picks up Rick Santorum endorsement in lt. governor’s race | News
- Campaign sign removed without permission