Cult of personality: AOC is upping her merchandise spending (Update)

AOC seems to be spending heavily on branded merchandise raising the possibility that she’s looking to raise her profile for a future run for office. Reuters reports she spent more on merchandise in the first half of 2021 than most House members spent on their campaigns.

Her campaign paid political merchandise firm Financial Innovations, which operates her online store and supplies merchandise, more than $1.4 million in the first six months of 2021, according to campaign disclosures to the Federal Election Commission late last week.

That is more than many lawmakers spent on their entire re-election efforts during the period, and nearly double her payments made over the prior two years to Financial Innovations, a Cranston, Rhode Island firm that specializes in political merchandise for Democrats.

Money raised through merchandise sales counts as political fundraising so the obvious question is why she’s looking to raise more money at this moment. Is it just intended to spread the AOC cult of personality or does she have another goal in mind?

“There’s the campaign finance aspect of it and, for lack of a better term, there’s the cult of personality aspect of it,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, who studies political branding at Stetson University…

“One would assume that she does have ambitions for higher office. Having a big bank account is certainly useful for that,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, a political scientist affiliated with the Wesleyan Media Project’s Delta Lab research group, which calculated that the share of Ocasio-Cortez’ Facebook ads offering merchandise late last year was more than twice that of other House candidates.

AOC is a big fan of primarying moderate Democrats so there has been some speculation that she might try to primary Sen. Chuck Schumer who is up for election again in 2022. Schumer will be 71 next year and has been in the Senate since 1999.

You can view all of AOC’s official merch here. Here are a few samples covering various issues:

Tax the rich so you can cancel student debt.

 

A lot of the merch involves the Green New Deal:

She has a series of posters which are designed to sort of look like the old WPA posters for national parks that were printed back in the 1930s. This one shows a bullet train passing Griffith Observatory in Lost Angeles.

I guess that’s the high speed rail project that has been under construction for several years already. It’s a great idea in theory but in practice it has been an expensive disaster with delays that one of the contractors described as “beyond comprehension.” The current budget is just over 20 billion and is expected to grow substantially before a partial system is opened sometime in the next decade.

In addition to all of the issue-oriented merch, you can of course get a poster or a button with her face on it.

I’m not sure what AOC’s goal is in investing in all of this new merchandise. Maybe she just wanted a piece of the action. If you look around there are lots of people cashing in or AOC’s cult of personality. Some of that merch is for her fans and some is clearly for her critics but sometimes it’s just hard to tell which is which. For instance, I think this “She Guevara” shirt isn’t meant to be complimentary but who knows.

I’m not sure where this AOC superhero shirt is coming from either. I think any fanboy who wears this to one of her events is likely to be scolded for it.

This Patrick Nagel style shirt is interesting. This is AOC as a Duran Duran covergirl (Her name is Alex and she dances on the sand…):

The designer says this next shirt is meant to represent AOC’s “magical ability to inspire young voters,” but I think critics may see a different message in this one:

They really do love her that much, though. I don’t think there’s any possible future in which she doesn’t run for president at some point. And yes, there are already a bunch of shirts advocating that, though none of them are official merch.

Update: Reuters is really pushing that story I quoted above.