You can see the slogans all over Florida. On T-shirts, flags, hats. At the grocery store, on car bumper stickers.
“DeSantisland. Land of liberty.”
“DeSantis Airlines: Bringing the border to you!”
These slick designs and their pithy catchphrases echo some of the most seismic news events of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ tenure as Florida’s top elected official: His ongoing feud with The Walt Disney Co.; his administration’s move to relocate dozens of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Massachusetts.
But much of the swag seen in public isn’t sold by DeSantis or those in his political orbit. Rather, a network of small businesses that specialize in political T-shirts and knickknacks have rushed to fill the demand for merchandise. Some purveyors are DeSantis admirers. Others run largely as Donald Trump merchandise shops, but have added DeSantis garb in recent months. Some are run by folks who seem entirely apolitical.
Whatever the motivations of the seller, it’s not every politician who gets to be the subject of a grassroots clothing line.
“Only a few get elevated to that merch status,” said Brandon Vallorani, who runs the conservative stores Flag & Cross and Patriot Depot. “The vast majority of them are just seen as politicians like everybody else.”
This brand of conservative merchandise reflects the appeal of the candidate it’s boosting. Supporters of DeSantis and former President Donald Trump — who are both running for the Republican presidential nomination — often say that they like the men’s authenticity. What they see is what they get. For a certain type of voter, DeSantis talking about how “Florida is where woke goes to die” is just the kind of bellicosity that works perfectly as a T-shirt.
So now, it’s a T-shirt.
When judging the viability of a candidate for the 2024 nomination, there are worse metrics than merchandise sales. Like the polls, Trump is dominating DeSantis there, retailers say.
Ronald Solomon is a Trump supporter who runs the store MAGA Mall — so named for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement. He sells dozens of Trump-themed products and started dabbling in DeSantis merchandise last year. Like the former president, Solomon is frequently in Florida, but he also sells merchandise wholesale to Republican clubs all over the country.
Solomon said even after DeSantis’ reelection in 2022 — and the relatively weak showing for Trump-endorsed candidates across the country — products touting DeSantis were still outsold by Trump goods 10 to 1. Now, with the Republican primary launching in earnest, it’s more like 100 to 1 in favor of Trump, Solomon said.
In many stores, the most prominent DeSantis swag seems to be the stuff touting a Trump-DeSantis ticket.
Vallorani, a libertarian-leaning Republican for whom the conservative shops are just one of several businesses, estimated Trump merch outsells DeSantis merch 50 to 1.
Of course, decked-out passion is not everything in politics. President Joe Biden doesn’t seem to have nearly the merchandise appeal of Trump or DeSantis, but he still earned 81.2 million votes in 2020, some 7 million more than Trump.
Solomon said it’s not a coincidence that Democratic voters don’t have the same inclination for merchandise as Republican voters.
“Have you ever seen a person wearing a ‘Build Back Better’ hat or a Joe Biden hat? Never. Because guess what? Trump has real grassroots support. These candidates the Democrats put up don’t,” Solomon said.
At politicalstickers.net, consumers of all political stripes can find merch to tout their candidates of choice. One hat reads, “Don or Ron — Just Not Biden,” while another proclaims, “Biden for president.”
“We are all Trump supporters at our company, but have many customers that are not,” reads a disclaimer on that site. “We respect your right to choose (and) can make anything you desire, no matter what your views are!”
Some of the pro-DeSantis T-shirts available online offer a relatively straightforward message. Many are simply campaign-style shirts touting DeSantis’ run for president in 2024 — most of which were made before DeSantis declared his candidacy in May. Others dream of a Trump-DeSantis ticket. (The two men have been clashing for months now. That president-VP combo is probably not going to happen.)
But much of the DeSantis merchandise emulates the governor’s confrontational brand of politics. Etsy stores sell trolling shirts with DeSantis’ name spelled in a Disney-style font. Some retailers offer a design emulating the “Top Gun”-themed “Top Gov” merchandise he hawked during his 2022 reelection campaign.
Now that DeSantis is officially a 2024 candidate, his campaign has begun advertising its own line of T-shirts and hats. But the pieces lack some of the irreverence of the goods sold in independent stores. The campaign shirts advertise DeSantis’ “Great American Comeback” slogan and put a positive spin on the candidate’s glitchy online campaign launch: “DeSantis Breaks Systems.”
DeSantis has become such a commodity, products bearing his name can veer into capitalist bizarro territory. One design sold by a Sri Lankan store on Redbubble depicts a couple walking toward a group of blank street signs. In the upper right corner of the shirt is a giant green umbrella. Beneath all of that is the word “Desantisland.” (That seller did not respond to requests for comment made through Redbubble’s messaging platform.)
There are also plenty of T-shirt designs bashing DeSantis that are available for purchase online. Etsy is full of retailers offering merch with vulgar slogans directed at the governor, or shirts supporting the LGBTQ+ community that read “DeSantis is a drag.”
But even the anti-DeSantis shirts demonstrate the governor’s stature in American politics.
“There’s an old slogan: ‘If you don’t repel, you can’t sell,’” Vallorani said.