Then, following his loss in 2020, the GOP was reduced to its status as an opposition party, with branding coming to match. Trump, the twice-indicted former president with a third investigation looming, is selling “Not Guilty” shirts and mugs, while other Republicans are left to capitalize on other perceived offenses of the left.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur, is pushing T-shirts and coffee mugs with the words “transgenderism,” “climatism” and “wokeism” crossed out. And in the era of Barstool politics, you can buy a “Biden, one term… everyone knows the rules” sticker — a play on the macho comedy publisher Barstool’s popular pizza review series — for $12, courtesy of the DeSantis camp. Or an “I stand with Tucker,” hat from Johnson.
Trump’s rivals aren’t going to replace Trump’s appeal to small-dollar donors with a koozie or a clever pin. The former president is the king of small-dollar fundraising in the GOP, as he proved again in the year’s second fundraising quarter.
As Stutzman put it, “Those little red hats wouldn’t have meant anything without Trump,” and no one in the field has demonstrated they “can be that same type of brand that really creates a passionate movement.”
But it’s imperative for Trump’s opponents to at least cut into the market with small-dollar donors. They need at least 40,000 unique donors to qualify for the first debate.
The donor threshold was at the root of an explosion of fundraising gimmicks in recent weeks. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential campaign offered donors a $20 gift card for a $1 donation, while the super PAC backing Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s campaign promised a chance to win a year of college tuition for a donation of the same, tiny amount.
Like those fundraising schemes, campaign merchandise typically is not a moneymaker. Nor is it likely to account for significant swings in voter support. And plenty of Republicans offer more traditional gear. Former Vice President Mike Pence has taken a page out of the Eisenhower playbook with “I like Mike” hoodies, t-shirts and hats, while South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is pitching himself as a cheery, baggage-free Trump alternative, is peddling “opTIMism,” T-shirts.
“What they’re selling is very telling because it speaks to a certain audience,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “You’re not convincing anybody with a bobblehead … but what you do want is you want your most perfect support groups to feel engaged with the campaign, to feel a part of it, and to kind of show their support.”
Or their disdain — which is why candidates are spinning the things today’s GOP loves to hate into wearable symbols of support.
There’s always a chance, after all, that something like Trump’s new “Crooked Joe” swag or DeSantis’ “Joe Biden makes me cry” onesie will go viral.
“They have to think of, what gets somebody in Alaska chuckling about this thing, I gotta get that koozie,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist. “They may not give $25 to somebody, but maybe they give $25 to get a cool hat or a t-shirt or some clever political memorabilia.”
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