August 15, 2018

What’s the worst piece of campaign swag ever? We have 6 nominees.


For those foolish enough to question the extent to which Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) would embrace his indictment and booking on charges of abuse of power, we can firmly and quickly provide an answer. Gov. Rick Perry plans to wring the brouhaha for every dollar it contains.

As evidence:

That is the special edition RickPAC mugshot t-shirt, yours for a low-low contribution of $25. And the added cost of your e-mail address, which will itself be thoroughly wrung out between now and January or April or November of 2016 or 2020.

But let’s step back from the political utility of the shirt and let’s instead reflect on The Shirt As Itself. If you saw this shirt on the streets of Dallas and were for some reason unaware of the identity of the gentleman depicted you might think the following: Oh, that person got that t-shirt for free at a bar he frequents. Which is to say: This t-shirt is a somewhat meh bit of political swag.

Which inspired us (meaning your humble late Friday Fixers, Jaime and Philip) to hold a contest. Starting from the Perry tee, we tried to keep one-upping each other in terrible campaign merch until we finally reached the very top (a.k.a. bottom) of the pile.

Jaime went first.

Jaime’s entry: 2 Legit 2 Mitt

This shirt, available at Urban Outfitters during the 2012 campaign, tries to juxtapose MC Hammer’s bankruptcy with the wealth on Mitt Romney. No, no it doesn’t. The only people who bought this shirt weren’t alive when 2 Legit 2 Quit came out. They only know about it through Vh1’s I Love the 90s, and aren’t old enough to vote anyway. This t-shirt has no political utility and is not witty. Also, the image of Mitt Romney in gold harem pants.

Philip’s entry: The Kerry-Edwards car flag

I obviously appreciate and enjoy the snarkiness of the 2 Legit t-shirt. But sincerity is always funnier than irony.

Behold, the 2004 Kerry-Edwards car flag, a flag that waves in the breeze as you drive, bearing the depiction of another flag that is also waving in the breeze. It captures a very particular moment in American history, of course, a small piece of an historic Venn diagram where “John Kerry was running for president” and “people put stupid flags on their cars” overlapped.

I choose this too because it was so heavily early-2000s, on its own domain (!) and with that terrible red Arial that was so prominent on the still-early Web. And also, just imagine being the guy who had to take this photo, finding just the right manicured lawn, probably wiping down the roof of some intern’s red Jetta to get the right gleam.

Jaime’s 2nd entry: The Martin O’Malley apron

For sale: O’Malley for President apron, never worn.

Philip’s 2nd entry: The Herman Cain all-over tee

For only $34, you can still buy this handsome 2012-vintage t-shirt featuring grinning Republican presidential primary candidate Herman Cain. If you, like me, get frustrated at all of the wasted space on your t-shirts, worry no longer. This shirt uses every tiny bit of space (except, apparently, the back?) to display the message that very nearly brought Cain to the White House: “UD O BE / MERICA / N CAIN FOR PRESIDEN.”

Jaime’s 3rd entry: The Barry Goldwater elephant pin

The most terrifying thing about this pin, which is from Barry Goldwater’s losing campaign against Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, is that it looks like exactly like something that Pottery Barn would sell for $800 if it were ten times bigger. Also, Warby Parker definitely sells those exact glasses.

Hmm… those glasses look familiar for some other reason too…

If Rick Perry runs in 2016, he is going to have so much merchandise featuring his glasses. That is an even more terrible thing to imagine than the mugshot t-shirt, and this Barry Goldwater pin made me think of it. That’s why it’s terrible.

Philip’s 3rd entry: Donald Trump for President t-shirt

As if to prove Jaime’s point about milking catchphrases. And a note: Rick Perry’s 2016 campaign can basically use that elephant pin as-is.

At this point, we will admit that some of the entries above (most of them, actually) are not campaign-endorsed bits of paraphernalia. Instead, they are earnest attempts by Regular Joe Americans to share their political beliefs and, simultaneously, make a few bucks. So, really, the difference between them and the candidates is subtle.

Such behavior is made possible through sites like Zazzle and Cafepress, which allow you to upload your own art. No more hand-crafting tiny eyeglasses for your gold elephant, simply open Microsoft Word, add a bunch of red and green stars, and hit “upload.” No need to worry about how that dark blue “TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT” will show up on your black t-shirt. Caveat emptor, and all that!

And, this we offer, is the worst campaign swag of the bunch. But as always, we encourage you to use the comments section below to 1) disparage our choices, 2) offer superior choices that we were idiots for not selecting, and 3) tell us why we should instead be writing about other more important things. We look forward to seeing your thoughts!

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for “The Fix” and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.


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