Wearing or owning shit that shows the world how you plan to vote is a time-honored American tradition that goes back to William Henry Harrison, the “log cabin candidate,” who was actually a wealthy landowner poormouthing with merch showing his down-home relatability. But until fairly recently, candidate swag, or chum, was generally free and relegated to yard signs, buttons, bumper stickers, and sad little shirts that, even brand-new, already resembled promotional garments leftover from a five-year-old corporate fun run. Barack Obama’s incredibly stylish 2008 campaign, complete with an online merchandise store featuring campaign gear one might wear long after the election, changed all that.
Twelve years later, even the candidates who never stood a chance have extensive merch stores hawking coffee mugs, tee shirts, and quirky items like beer koozies and tea towels. But unlike Harrison’s log cabin chum, which probably sat in supporters’ homes long after his very brief stint as president and now commands serious money at auctions, most of the crap we buy to get proof of our civic engagement in return for our donation is probably going to end up as part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on which we will all most likely have to live when the rising seas swallow our homes.
But interestingly, the bartering of crap for campaign cash doesn’t stop after a candidate quits the race. As of right now, many former candidates’ merch stores are up and in operation even as they film videos shilling for Joe Biden. Some, like Andrew Yang, are offering deep discounts on all the campaign chum nobody bought back when it mattered. Emails to representatives for all the former candidates still selling merchandise about where the money from those post-campaign sales and unsold chum goes went unanswered, though a representative for Pete Buttigieg did say the campaign expected to sell out of its remaining merchandise and the money would go to Pete’s campaign, whatever that means.
But whether you’re hoping to collect pieces that might bring in log cabin bucks at future auctions, saving up crap to build a charming lean-to on garbage island, or just need a good ice scraper, here’s a guide to the shit still for sales from the shitshow that was the 2020 Democratic primaries.
A tee shirt featuring the names of Pete Buttigieg’s dogs
While Chasten was the sung hero of Mayor Pete’s campaign and resultant fanfic, there was not nearly enough fanfare around Buddy and Truman, dogs positively brimming with the charm and charisma lacked by most Democratic candidates and most Democratic candidate pets. If you’d like to remember the White House dogs that could have been and don’t mind this unfortunate melted sherbet hue, this tee shirt is now on deep discount.
A button featuring an evergreen statement
Of all the candidate merchandise sale racks I waded through for this blog, there was none more depressing than Tom Steyer’s. His shirts and buttons featured hopeful statements of ideas that came to nothing, like “Nevada for Tom” or “Impeach” in birthday cake colors—unswept confetti littering the floor of a party where ultimately no invited guests turned up. However, President Trump remains just as terrible as when these buttons were printed, if you’d like a one-dollar reminder that some truths are immutable.
Math and mary jane
Numbers have been my enemy since the St. Jude’s Mathathon taught me that my refusal to learn long division had real-world repercussions, and lately all cannabis does is cause me to have four-hour thinks on all manner of my myriad other flaws. However, the afternoon I spent waiting in line with the Yang Gang served as a reminder many people enjoy both these things, sometimes at once. Or perhaps numbers and weed do nothing for you and instead, your interests lie with antiquated acronyms that were always largely obscure. These hats still have a lot to offer a diverse crowd is what I’m saying.
A genuinely lovely iron-on patch
Kamala Harris is, of course, still a senator, and therefore her campaign merch shop is functional in that capacity. This is a good patch that only costs nine dollars. It would look very nice on a denim jacket regardless of what does or does not happen to American democracy in the coming years.
These dumb Bloomberg matches
I’m aware he’s still in but surely that won’t be true any minute now.
Author’s note: I began writing this blog because the Amy Klobuchar ice scraper and tea towel featuring the hot dish recipe she distributed during her campaign were still for sale. However, an hour after emailing her team and asking how long one might reasonably expect to retain the option of buying said tea towel, the campaign site began showing an “Under Maintenance” message. We will update with any tea towel developments.