Swag, Swag, and more SWAG
It is not a secret to my friends, classmates, teachers, Drake administration, or the Drake student body in general that I am a Republican. The data resulting from research on partisanship in America might naturally make you believe that being this openly partisan has resulted in me suffocating under the swarm of Democratic presidential candidates invading Iowa, but the reality is quite the opposite. As seen in my CBS interview, my walls are lined with rows of campaign placards, my bedposts are plastered with candidate’s stickers, and most of the other available surfaces in the room are occupied by some other type of candidate swag.
With the number of candidates and campaigns in Des Moines and on campus, I have found it is much easier, and dare I say, fun to lean into the caucus experience regardless of partisan affiliation than to try and avoid or resist the waterfall of candidates. So instead of avoidance, most weeks throughout this semester, I could be found at multiple campaign events in one weekend. Going to these events has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of progressive policies while granting me a few handshakes and selfies with prominent political candidates who could be president one day. More importantly, I have been able to collect memorabilia from campaigns that could very well be forgotten and irrelevant following the possibility of a below-average Iowa caucus performance.
As I sit in one of the local Des Moines Java Joe’s and sip my coffee while writing this blog, a middle-aged man is sitting across the coffee shop working on his computer, but more importantly, he is wearing a shirt with the unmistakable Andrew Yang branding. First, I challenge you to find many other coffee shops in the nation occupied by members of the Yang Gang flaunting their swag, but Andrew Yang’s campaign swag may only be enjoyed by Iowans if his support is underwhelming on caucus night. Yang also has some of the best swag of any candidate in the Democratic field. Yang’s memorabilia ranges from the customary campaign placards and stickers to more creative items such as thousand dollar bills representing his Freedom Dividend policy and shirts with Yang’s face on them. Furthermore, one of the most familiar items of Yang Gang swag is his navy blue hat with the acronym MATH sewn across the front. The acronym stands for Make America Think Harder and is an obvious spin-off of another 2020 candidate’s swag game.
While President Donald Trump has not visited Iowa since the summer, the Iowa caucus still played a large role in creating “Trump, the serious presidential contender.” On caucus night in 2016, Trump came in second just behind Ted Cruz, capturing one of the three tickets out of Iowa. More importantly for this conversation, then-candidate and now-president Trump mastered campaign swag early and has continued to use it for branding and fundraising throughout his time as a politician. The first item that comes to mind is, as alluded to earlier, the unmistakable bright red Make America Great Again hats seen at every Trump rally in 2016 and today. As president, Trump has printed many of his sayings on merchandise including “Stand Up for America” football jerseys, reusable plastic straws, “Bull-Schiff” shirts, and sending fake bricks to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer during the January 2019 government shutdown over border wall funding. No matter your thoughts on Trump the person or Trump the president, the Trump campaign has mastered the skill of effectively marketing swag.
With just over 60 days until the Iowa caucus, swag is one way to spread name recognition and interest throughout Iowa as seen by the Yang shirt in the coffee shop and the piles of free merchandise at campaign events. Many campaigns are getting creative with their marketing, but only one Democrat will last through the Democratic convention. All other shirts, hats, buttons, and signs will be thrown away or stored in storage closets, but when it’s all over and you wish you had a fake thousand dollar bill with Andrew Yang’s face on it, I’m not giving you mine.