By Ilyse Liffreing.
On Tuesday, just one day after President Trump was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he was treated for COVID-19, a webpage called the White House Gift Shop, which is not affiliated with the White House, began selling a commemorative coin as part of its “Historic moments in history” collection to honor Trump’s recovery from the coronavirus. The coin, which can be preordered for $100, describes it as a “limited edition” and features icons of Trump (most likely without mask) and members of his first team. A photo is coming soon, but orders don’t ship until a week after the election.
It’s a good example of how merchandise is playing a role in campaign strategy in a year as unprecedented as this one.
Trump and Joe Biden, of course, have their own official online stores helping to feed their election campaigns, and much of their campaign strategy can be gleaned from the range of their commercialized goods. Among all the “Make America Great Again” hats and “Team Joe” yard signs are some true oddities.
Much of what Americans saw during the first presidential debate—CNN’s Dana Bash dubbed it a “shit show” while many Americans described the candidates as behaving worse than toddlers—is spilling over into the candidates’ merchandise. While the candidates’ merchandise caters to different groups, both candidates are pumping the same snarkiness that came through in the first debate into their T-shirts, pins, and more.
Perhaps surprisingly, that comes across more on Joe Biden’s online store. Even though Biden temporarily paused negative ads following Trump’s COVID dianosis, his online store remained the same. One topic that was brought up during the first presidential debate was taxes. Biden accused Trump of not paying his taxes after he released his 2019 tax returns earlier in the day. Since then, Biden has been selling $30 gray T-shirts, $6 black pins and $7.50 vinyl stickers that read “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump.”
Before the debate even ended, Biden’s “Team Joe” Twitter account shared a T-shirt with Trump’s face and one of its most memorable moments—when Biden asked Trump to stop talking over him with the not-so-polite rebuttal: “Will you shut up, man?” The shirt is no longer available on the site, and the Biden campaign did not response to a request for information.
While Trump has no debate-inspired merch so far, the sitting president has zeroed in on past Biden interviews that have went wrong. In May, Biden told voters “you ain’t Black” if you’re still deciding who to vote for in an interview with Charlamagne tha God. Biden apologized, but in August called the Latino community diverse, “unlike” the Black community. Trump seized on the moment and began selling a “#YouAintBlack” T-shirt which has “Black” crossed out and diverse written above it with the quote coming from Joe Biden. “First we were told we “AIN’T BLACK.” Now we aren’t diverse. Who knows what he will say next?” reads the shirt’s caption.
Each candidate’s online store might be relatively similar in pricing, but they show a different approach in the demographics they are aiming to reach. The Trump campaign is selling more varieties of apparel than the Biden campaign and each demographic (even ones Trump has had difficulty in reaching) has their own T-shirts, sweatshirts, signs, hats and bumper stickers in a variety of colors. “Veterans for Trump,” “Lawyers for Trump,” “Women for Trump,” “Cops for Trump,” “Black voices for Trump,” and even “Babies for Trump” onesies.
The Trump campaign merchandise caters more to older adults. On the site are $70 gold cuff links, $20 label pins and the site is peppered with $35 pint glasses, $30 wine glasses, $30 whiskey glasses, $15 “I love Trump” straws and a set of four Trump-Pence 2020 red party cups for $20.
Joe Biden’s online shop, on the other hand, leans heavier into reaching younger voters, a demographic he’s targeting with digital activations and influencer partnerships. Under “collections,” Biden has laid out all the QR codes for free campaign signs and digital avatar clothes for players of Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” Little fall sweaters read “Unity Over Division” and “Rebuild with Love” and signs state “Biden: Harris.” Under “Digital downloads” are signs consumers can share on social media, Zoom backgrounds, iPhone wallpapers, Bingo games, coloring pages with aviator sunglasses and the Biden family dogs, and sticker and crossword packets.
Willie Nelson, musician, activist and weed aficionado, has partnered with Joe Biden on a “Joe is a Willie Big Deal” cotton T-shirt that sells for $30 (Nelson has also created a “Vote ‘Em Out” song). Designer, author and activist Cleo Wade has created a $35 “The first but not the last” T-shirt for Kamala Harris and a $45 cropped tee from designer Carly Cushnie quotes Joe Biden saying “Believe in Better.”
Both candidates are also selling accessories that are well, more eccentric than conventional.
Joe Biden’s campaign is selling $8 two ounce bottles of “Build Back Better” hand sanitizer that outlines Biden’s COVID plan right on the label, a $25 black tank with a photo of a teenage Biden, $35 gold “unity” face mask from jewelry designer Monique Péan and a “No Meowlarkey” cat collar for $28.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign is selling $5 Space Force bumper stickers, $15 dog collars, $30 T-shirts that state “If you don’t like Trump then you probably don’t like me,” a $24 poster that shows Trump as Uncle Sam saying “I want you to help prevent voter fraud on election day” and a $20 16-page coloring book for kids that depicts Trump as a superhero.
No matter which party you fall under, some things are just bizarre.