Who is buying and wearing T-shirts for the late-entering moderate billionaire candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination?
Something curious happens when you visit the official campaign website of Mike Bloomberg: There’s no direct donation button! (Probably because he is a billionaire.) But, if you’re an ardent supporter of the former New York City mayor, you can still support him by purchasing some of his ton of merch, including T-shirts with the slogan “Facts over fiction,” “In God we trust, everyone else bring data,” and, “I like Mike.”
In 2016, the infamous, bright red “Make America Great Again” hat became a sort of Rorschach test for voters — do you see power, hate, or something else entirely? — and since then political merch has morphed into a way to project not only which candidate you support but who you are.
Bloomberg announced his presidential bid less than a month ago. In the days since, I have scoured social media to find voters who boasted about buying a Bloomberg T-shirt. Searching for combinations of terms on Twitter (such as “bloomberg tshirt bought,” “bloomberg shirt bought,” “bloomberg shirt i,” and many more) were pretty much unsuccessful. Instagram was even worse. No matter how many hashtag variations I used — #Bloomberg2020, #BloombergForPresident, #ILikeMike — I could not find anyone with a public profile who had shared a picture sporting a Bloomberg 2020 shirt.
Feeling like a failure and with a deadline breathing over my neck, I did the next best thing: I reached out to the campaign and asked if they could connect me with a supporter who had purchased one of these damn shirts. Bloomberg’s press team quickly said the would look into it. But 24 hours later, I hit another wall.
“Hi — So sorry but afraid I don’t have those insights!” a very nice spokesperson who was probably weirded out by my request replied.
Finally, through Twitter, I was able to locate one Wesley Lewis, a 29-year-old from Athens, Georgia, who purchased an “I like Mike” shirt, which he says reflects his identity as a moderate voter — and appealed to him as a collector of political memorabilia, to boot.
Lewis, who works in public relations, says he loves campaign swag, and hasn’t limited his 2020 collection to products from the former New York City mayor. The “I Like Mike” shirt reminded him, as it was supposed to, of Dwight Eisenhower’s “I Like Ike” campaign slogan. “It immediately caught my attention,” he says. Lewis is no Bloomberg-only stan, though. He’s purchased merch from other presidential candidates, too: Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “I consider merchandise to be my contribution,” he said. “It’s something that I really love.”
One thing all these candidates have in common is their centrist views. “I have a sort of an appreciation for what I consider the moderate line of candidates,” he says. Bloomberg’s website “really highlights his identity as a problem-solver and someone who is not an extreme.”
Lewis has yet to wear the T-shirt.
I eventually did find a second person who had bought a shirt — not to wear, though, for reasons that had nothing to do with backing the candidate. Stephanie Ruby, 34, a social media strategist from the Philadelphia suburbs in Pennsylvania, has been systematically buying T-shirts from every Democratic presidential candidate to create a quilt.
“It’s such an interesting time to be a Democrat, to be a person in politics. There are so many people running that I could make a quilt! I could make a big enough blanket,” she says of her dawning realization about the relationship between the size of the Democratic field and her passion for quilting. “Campaigns are one of those things where it is so crazy in the moment, but then you look back and kind of forget how crazy it was. It’s a fun way for me to commemorate this crazy time period in history.”
Ruby worked on Tom Steyer’s campaign and first started buying T-shirts to track which candidates supported impeaching President Donald Trump. The first one she bought was from Julián Castro’s campaign. When Steyer announced his candidacy back in July, she decided to get them all. “I said, ‘I’m already halfway there,’” she says. “I’ve technically donated to every single Democrat who is running for president. It’s not a cheap hobby.”
Now she’s freelancing and adding Bloomberg’s name to her crazy quilt of democracy.