Ah, presidential primary season. We meet again, you crazy, extravagant fool.
Last week, the Iowa caucuses kicked off a months-long period where Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will duke it out for the presidential nomination from their respective parties. Even though I love politics, campaign season gets old quickly to me. I get annoyed with the heightened sense of media speculation surrounding candidates. Case in point: Here’s an article on Mitt Romney’s ice cream eating habits before the 2012 election.
Instead of ice cream preferences, policy proposals or how many babies are kissed, perhaps the best way to judge a candidate is by what merchandise they sell to their supporters – after all, a well placed slogan or button can make the history books. This is my attempt to grade each of the remaining candidates on how closely their merchandise matches the ideals set forth by their platforms, how creative or unique their merchandise is and how hard they are trying to make an effort to connect with the pesky 18-to-24 demographic that ultimately ends up making us cringe. This is comprehensive and definitive, folks, so you might as well print this list out and use it as reference for the rest of the primary season.
Staying on message: Most of his merchandise is printed with labels certifying it’s union-made – a nice, subtle touch, considering how much emphasis he puts on middle and working class values in his campaign. He also has a line of Pride-specific products to reference his support of the LGBT community. Grade: A
#Millennial? (appeal to millennials): Bernie has bumper stickers that play on his “Feel The Bern” slogan, but his online shop doesn’t sell anything that would make millennials overtly roll their eyes. Grade: B+
Overall: Classic, with a slight – but not overwhelming or gimmicky – flair. Grade: B
Staying on message: Hillary has a wide array of feminist and LGBT products to show her support of the feminist and LGBT rights movements. Grade: A
#Millennial?: Really, Hillary? Do we need t-shirts that say “YAAAS Hillary”? Do you really feel so disconnected from this demographic you feel like the only way to relate with 18- to 24-year-olds is to sell “Chillary Clinton” coozies? Why does there need to be a hashtag in front of this “Hill Yes” bumper sticker? I feel like all of this was proposed by that one uncle who tries really, really hard to prove he’s cool at family functions. Please stop. Grade: F
Overall: I’m giving Hillary bonus points for creativity. This girl has got an extensive catalog, largely thanks to the fact she has the fattest wallet of any candidate. From cookie cutters to dress socks and a clever pantsuit-themed shirt, you can practically get anything you could ever want branded with her H logo or signature. At the end of the day, she has some really cool stuff like this incredible feminist pillow that I am pining for, but it’s almost too much, a little too overwhelming and trying a little too hard to be relevant to millennials. Grade: B-
Staying on message: Considering how much Trump talks about making America great again, it’s no surprise that every item on his website proudly boasts a little graphic proclaiming “Made In the USA.” Rumors that his infamous hats are made in China were proven to be false. I wonder if the eagle-emblazoned yard signs he sells also come with a speaker so you can blast “Proud to Be an American” in your front lawn. Grade: B
#Millennials?: Trump’s merchandise is decidedly classic. He makes no attempts to pander to the youths, and, while it pains me to say this, I have to admit that I appreciate the fact he doesn’t stoop to using memes and pop culture references to gain support. Grade: A
Overall: I’m slightly disappointed that Trump’s merchandise campaign is so average and bland. He has more media hype than major reality TV shows and is known for saying inflammatory, racist and bigoted things, so I almost want him to sell a shirt that says “Let’s build a wall” so I can hate him more. Grade: C+
Staying on message: Rubio only offers one product that refers to anything in his platform: this Second Amendment rights shirt. If you had no knowledge of the 2016 election cycle, it would be hard to figure out what this guy stands for. Grade: C
#Millennial?: Oh boy! Rubio’s merchandise team really knows how to be hip. I’ll just leave this shirt right here. He also offers an emoji shirt, but if you have need to “translate” the phrase underneath the emojis, you probably should reconsider putting them there in the first place. How this merchandise is popular enough to warrant a disclaimer saying “Please allow extra time for delivery due to high demand” is beyond me. Grade: D
Overall: Perhaps Rubio could have scored higher if he had come up with some more creative offerings, but overall, his merchandise is nothing special. Grade: C-
Staying on message: The man is selling a poster of the Constitution. Need I say more? Grade: A
#Millennial?: Cruz was so, so close to escaping the inexplicable desire to cater to millennials, but he slipped up in offering this monogrammed chevron monstrosity that can only be explained by a desire to appeal to college girls in the South. He also is selling an ugly holiday-themed sweater, which was an inescapable trend among 18- to 24-year-olds this past holiday season. Grade: D
Overall: Cruz scored high marks in platform relevance and I’ll give him bonus points for creativity. Ted’s got you covered. From football jerseys to foam fingers and coolers, Ted’s camp is selling a wide array of products aside from the general merchandise peddled in election cycles. But, he slipped up in the millennial category. When will candidates learn that they aren’t being hip and cool in their attempts to connect with the young crowd? Grade: B-
Bonus: I’m not sure how practical or honest a bumper sticker proclaiming “This vehicle makes right turns only” is.
Staying on message: There is this lone bumper sticker which makes a vague reference to reducing the national debt, but otherwise his products lack reference to his goals and ideals as a candidate. Grade: C
#Millennial?: We’re #blessed to not have any millennial pandering in this store! Grade: A
Overall: If Kasich’s products were a food, they would be oatmeal with half a spoonful of brown sugar. Grade: C
Staying on message: We get it, your dad and brother already were president. Who is Jeb! though? What do you stand for? What is your agenda for office? What is your favorite ice cream flavor? These are the questions that keep me awake at night. Grade: C
#Millennial?: He’s got a clean sheet here. Classic items, no memes. Just the way I like it. Grade: A
Overall: Oh Jeb, you lovable teddy bear, you. He probably doesn’t deserve bonus points, but the ingenuity behind the piece de resistance “Guaca Bowle” deserves every possible praise I can bestow upon it. I am baffled as to wondering why we need a guacamole bowl engraved to proclaim JEB! But I want it. I need it, and the matching barbecue apron. Take my money already. If only you could make an identity for yourself outside of your family. Grade: B+