COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The field of 2024 presidential candidates may have some options for shoppers scrambling for a last-minute holiday gift.
As the campaign for the White House kicks into full gear, the contenders are offering an onslaught of holiday-themed merchandise, many of which capture some of the surreal aspects of the 2024 race. Donald Trump, for instance, is embracing his status as the first former president to face criminal charges by emblazoning his mug shot on Christmas sweaters, gift wrap and stockings.
Trump and his supporters have embraced the image of him intensely glaring into a Fulton County Jail camera since he surrendered on charges that he illegally tried to interfere in Georgia’s 2020 election.
Trump’s campaign is hardly backing away from his status, offering items emblazoned with the mug shot almost immediately after it was taken in August, with nearly daily emails offering supporters a mug, T-shirt or poster bearing the image, along with the words “Never Surrender.”
Nearly all of the 2024 candidates have online stores and most have tchotchkes that riff on the year’s politics.
You can snag a Nikki Haley tree ornament and wrapping paper emblazoned with the hopeful’s campaign logo, or a litany of more traditional items like hats, shirts, and even “Past my prime?” drink koozies that harken back to the comment that led in part to Don Lemon being bounced from CNN.
Don’t forget Ron DeSantis’ set of golf balls whose box bares the phrase that he “has a pair” — a slight at Trump for not participating in the GOP primary debates. Or Vivek Ramaswamy’s “Nikki = Corrupt” T-shirt, the phrase the entrepreneur wrote on a notepad after a debate night tirade against Haley’s service on the board of aerospace giant Boeing Co.
Democrats are also taking advantage of the chance to pump up their sales — and the associated campaign donations that come with them. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has a slew of the usual apparel fare. There’s also its line of “Dark Brandon” shirts, signs, mugs and even holiday gift wrap with the president’s red-eyed caricature that embraces the 2021-era “Let’s Go Brandon” phrase intended as an insult (but which Democrats have aimed to operationalize in a tongue-in-cheek battle cry).
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s store has apparel, stickers and a number of items with “No shirt, no shoes, no Secret Service,” recalling the independent candidate’s ongoing denial of federal protection despite security issues during his campaign.
You’re out of luck, though, if you’re looking for official Chris Christie or Dean Phillips merch — holiday or otherwise — although there are a number of third-party purveyors ready to hook you up with shirts, hats and even beach towels.
The Trump mug shot merch has been popping up along the campaign trail as Trump and others have been stumping across Iowa ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses.
A Christmas version features a red and white Santa hat atop Trump’s head. There’s also a mug shot Christmas stocking and with wrapping paper to match, as well as another version with the candidate pumping his fist in the air.
At a recent Trump campaign event in Cedar Rapids, there was plenty of Trump merchandise in the crowd of at least 700, with the former president’s name, “Make America Great Again” slogan and his mug shot blazoned on hats, T-shirts signs and more. One couple, who declined to speak to an Associated Press reporter, were wearing matching red and green MAGA Christmas sweaters.
Pat Sand, a 57-year-old from Marcus, Iowa, who was wearing a Trump campaign hat and button, said Trump’s use of his mug shot on merchandise, including on Christmas-themed items, “puts the name and the face out there, good or bad.”
Sand said he has novelty toilet paper that features Trump’s mug shot on it — although he added, with a laugh, that he does not use it.
“My daughter got it for me,” he said. “It was sarcasm.”
Outside the event, Scott Bohac from the Cleveland, Ohio, area was one of a handful of sellers of unofficial merchandise that set up tables and tents outside Trump’s events.
As the crowd was streaming home and a winter storm was starting to roll in, Bohac — who has spent the last three years traveling the country selling shirts outside Trump rallies — was folding the last few T-shirts he made for that day’s event.
“Some of these vendors got like 20 different shirts. I push one shirt,” said Bohac, who said he designs a new one for each event with the date and location of the rally — like a concert — along with a word like “Trump” and some kind of image in the center, which he said is “usually always eagles.”
Saying he has not started selling the designs featuring Trump’s mug shot, Bohac said sales have gone up for him since Trump started facing criminal indictments, and that it’s smart for the campaign to use it.
“I just left that for everybody else,” he said. “I do my thing.”
Campaigns use their merchandising opportunities — from “Dark Brandon” to “Nikki = Corrupt” to the mug shot — to seize on the moment, said J. Mark Powell, a GOP strategist and longtime collector of political memorabilia in South Carolina.
“What we’re seeing in this cycle is making the most of things that are talked about at this very moment, but which will soon turn into trivia questions for political junkies,” he said, adding that the fast fashion way that campaigns utilize third-party vendors to make and sell their wares also brings in donations and user data, as well as visibility and generates pride among supporters.
“Giving someone a Biden coffee mug or a roll of Trump wrapping paper isn’t going to change the mind of a single undecided or independent voter,” said. “It just makes existing supporters feel good about their candidate.”
In the future, Powell said that he imagines a campaign merchandising strategy that might reflect fewer novelty items and more ideology.
“Could liberals one day have the opportunity to buy an electric scooter to show their support for green energy, or conservatives purchase a barrier to be placed on a border wall?” he asked. “It sounds farfetched now, but who would have imagined Trump wrapping paper five years ago?”
Michelle L. Price contributed from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press