Posted by guest-blogger Amanda Teuscher
With the news that presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz’s affiliated super-PACs have raked in $31 million in less than a week, it looks like Senator Rand Paul is going to have to sell a lot of beer koozies.
Paul, who announced his candidacy on Tuesday, is already facing skepticism from conservatives and libertarians alike. As Paul Waldman noted here last week, the senator is likely to lose his distinctiveness as he toes the standard GOP line in preparation for the primary—especially as fear of ISIS displaces lessons learned from the Iraq War and the conservative base gets more hawkish. With CNN already wondering whether Paul “missed his moment,” the Paul campaign—complete with logo that looks more like an energy company than a campaign button—needs to brand his candidacy with a distinctive look. And as The Wall Street Journal noted, Paul’s online campaign shop features some unique, Brand Rand merchandise.
There’s a $15 “RAND” webcam blocker for those who haven’t discovered tape; multiple iPhone, Macbook, and iPad cases for those who worship the brand of Apple; and a $35 set of 12 “freedom paddles” for those who want “the next leader of the free world on a stick” (and don’t have a printer or access to popsicle sticks).
But there’s also something distinctly collegiate about the curation of items, as well as the very un–J. Peterman-like copy: “Look good listening to your jams with Rand Paul.” “Here’s to a 6-pack of freedom.” And there’s a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” T-shirt that, as the description says, combines “the Rand Paul filibuster for privacy with an Internet meme of a person yelling at police, ‘Don’t taze me bro.’”
Apparel-wise, there are skull caps, hoodies, and burnout tees (the patterns on which I think are more likely to induce debates about aesthetic taste than about civil liberties). And of course, there are flip-flops. My own personal opinions about flip-flops aside (they are terrible and should only be worn at the beach), someone on the Paul campaign clearly figured out that the vast majority of college students consider these two pieces of plastic acceptable footwear for every occasion.
Paul wants to be the cool candidate, and the idea seems to be to tap into the same grassroots energy that propelled the cool Obama, with a record share of the 18-29 vote, to the White House in 2008. The models in Paul’s campaign store are young, and for sale are Rand beer koozies and beer steins displaying a sunglasses-wearing, American flag–holding Jack Russell terrier. And, of course, there’s the quintessential swing-state lawn game, cornhole. (Rand’s website refers to it as “bag toss,” clearly reluctant to mention the word “cornhole,” but I’m from Ohio and I’m not afraid to call it by its proper name.)
None of this millennial outreach, though, is surprising. In the Fall issue of the Prospect, Adele M. Stan noted that Paul is directing his message of liberty to a very specific slice of that generation:
But if you drill down to look at which part of the millennial cohort expresses a belief in smaller government, it’s mostly white people, and the percentage varies according to how the question is asked. A March report by Pew Research found that overall, some 38 percent of millennials, not half, favored smaller government and fewer services. But when looked at through the prism of race, 52 percent of white millennials did, while 71 percent of non-white millennials favored bigger government and more services—numbers that likely speak to just which segment of the millennial generation Paul is aiming for.
As Stan writes, Paul’s libertarian cast masks a states’-rights philosophy that allows semi-local majorities to decide on matters that millennials are liberal on, such as same-sex marriage—a philosophy he’ll likely hold onto in his appeals to right-wing conservatives. Of course, maybe us millennials won’t notice that if he can convince us he’s just a liberty-loving dude who likes lawn games and brews.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Brand Rand shop is the short, phoning-it-in copy for one of the cornhole sets: “Have fun, make a difference,” is all it says. If only it were that easy.