Latest 2016 Campaign Fight: Who Has the Coolest Gear For Sale to True Believers?

Bernie Sanders has the biggest crowds so far. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have the most money in the bank. But if you want another insight into the minds of the 2016 candidates or a sign of their appeal, there’s a new feature on the campaign trail: the campaign store.

The era of campaign buttons is over. There are beer mugs, beach towels, baby clothes, car accessories, campaign T-shirt contests, cute dogs and snide slogans. Since contemporary campaigns are about marketing, none of this should be a surprise. But in a curious way, the stores (at least the stores of candidates who have them), are interesting reflections of the candidates. Some are taciturn and stiff. Some are looser and trying to be hip.

Bernie was never known for a fashion sense. He used to get teased about missing buttons on blazers and unkempt hair. But like 2016’s other top contenders he has a store, even if the T-shirts, coffee mugs and stickers have a certain northern New England starchiness to them. Bernie’s first name is emblazoned in big blue or white letters—with a star over the i—against a sky blue or pale white backdrop. It’s union-made, of course. The “Show Your Pride” version of these wares has rainbow hues, which looks better. Considering that it's fashionable in Vermont to wear hiking books with dress pants in winter, it’s no surprise that Bernie’s gear looks like it’s from a camping store.

Hillary, on the other hand, wants to make her campaign a summertime family picnic. On her apparel page, there’s the classic crewneck (greys with her H-arrow logo), the “future voter” jumpsuit for one-year-olds, the Hillary hoodie, the Hillary hat, the Hillary Pride tank top, the LGBT V-neck, and the PossibiliTee (saying, “Yes, you can be anything you want to”). On the accessory page, there’s the Hillary-branded bottle opener keychain, the “Chillery Clinton Koozie Pack" (to keep beer cans cool), barbeque apron, spatula, and among other things, a giant Hillary beach towel. There are also lapel pins, pint beer glasses and a stitch throw pillow saying, “A woman’s place is in the White House.”

Journalists used to joke that Americans would vote for whomever they wanted to have a beer with. Hillaryland wants you to be ready for a summer outing with a full cooler. Hint to Bernie: isn’t there something more fun you could get behind? Like a Socialist frisbee or tie-dye umbrella? (The two other Democrats, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb, don’t have campaign stores—yet.)

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans with campaign stores tend to have all the personality you would expect from a male-only country club.

Jeb Bush’s T-shirts, with “Jeb” emblazoned in big letters against a navy blue or white backdrop, are on par with Bernie’s for stiffness. Their layout is oddly similar, too. On the other hand, Bush’s commuter coffee mug (with a flag or bold logo) is definitely practical. Forget coffee, on-the-fence Republicans can uze it to sip scotch on the rocks at his rallies. He also has a navy-blue Jeb-branded iPhone case, and a three-inch-wide campaign button where his smile appears to be about a quarter-inch wide. There are also microfiber polo shirts for men and women, and navy blue eye shade caps.

On the far right, where the flame of liberty burns red, there seems to be a pending logo spat between Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Paul, who has the most varied store on his side, looks like Lou Reed or Bob Dylan (circa 1985) in Vuarnet sunglasses in one T-shirt. Another features a cute dog with big ears biting an American flag, and yet another (in bumblebee yellow) declares, “Don’t drone me, bro!”

Paul uses a red flame above his first name. Cruz, similarly, uses a flame motif burning inside the C of his last name on shirts, hats, mugs, iPhone holders and bumper stickers. But that’s where the similarities end. Cruz’s wares have the look and feel of a golf pro shop, while Paul, like Hillary, is trying to be fashionable and cool.

Paul’s fashion acumen also extends to “car décor,” which has a dedicated page on his web store. There are bumper magnets, window flags, license plate frames, and even “Stand With Rand Car Mats” for only $70. There is also stuff that makes one wonder what he’s really thinking. There’s the MacBook skin, Rand Paul Beats headphones, NSA spy cam blocker, giant Rand Paul birthday card, and autographed eye chart ($500), autographed Constitution ($1,000) and several “liberty not Hillary” posters and stickers.

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