Donald Trump’s rallies are rock concerts for right-wingers, and every concert needs its merch table. The Republican National Convention in Cleveland, just a walk from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is no different—only this stop on Trump’s tour features far more tables, and the wares are even more offensive and crude than usual.
The first time I encountered Trump apparel on the campaign trail was on December 8 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, the night Trump announced his proposed ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. The long, winding line into the USS Yorktown was bordered by a row of tables of bootlegged “Make America Great Again” hats, “Hillary for Prison” shirts, and every button imaginable, including one in which the White House, presumably after Trump’s election, had been dipped in gold and emblazoned with his name like one of his casinos.
The punitive theme persists on the streets of Cleveland—and inside the convention hall—but now Clinton isn’t simply behind bars or in chains. Many other items are less concerned with her supposed criminality than her gender. I had seen many “Trump That Bitch” shirts before. But this was a new one: Trump riding a motorcycle up the White House driveway as Clinton tumbles off the back of his hog, revealing text on the back of his jacket: “If You Can Read This The Bitch Fell Off.”
You might who could possibly buy, let alone wear, such offensive things. The answer: everybody. The vendor’s tables are swamped, and it’s almost impossible to go anywhere in Cleveland without seeing someone wearing this stuff while others laugh and snap photos.
The better question, then, is who’s selling this stuff?
He calls himself D.C. Dave. In the vendor community, they know each other by such nicknames, he says, refusing to give his real name. They work the same circuit, including sporting events, parades, concerts, and any cultural event where they might sell a few wholesale buttons and shirts.
“We use the same company,” he tells me (he wouldn’t name the company). “They do work for the Republican and Democratic Party, official stuff, and then they put these things on the side.”
The side things include the aforementioned products with Clinton behind a set of bars, one reading “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Large Thighs, 2 Small Breasts... Left Wing,” and the button I bought to get some of D.C. Dave’s time: “Life’s A Bitch — Don’t Vote For One.”
Does the ugliness of these products bother D.C. Dave?
“They’re funny,” he says. “They’re insults, but they’re in good fun. You can see people have a lot of fun with this stuff. They really get a kick out of it.”
When asked why the products have gotten increasingly offensive, D.C. Dave smiles—and doesn’t quite answer the question.
“There were guys out here last night selling ‘Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica’ shirts for twenty bucks a pop,” he says. “They usually go for ten.”
D.C. Dave says he’s not picking a side in this election, that the job requires him to “stay out of politics.” After all, next week he’ll be in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, and other rallies and speeches afterward.
Retired, D.C. Dave likes the opportunity to get out and travel, meet new people, and make a few extra bucks. His operation is small, but others are larger, including one team that travels the entire country in two Mercedes tour buses full of merchandise and crews of at least ten men, according to D.C. Dave.
“They’re doing it up,” he says. “And they’re cleaning up.”