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RFK Jr. Got Caught Selling Imported Campaign Gear. Are the Other Candidates Supporting Made in USA?

A screenshot of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign store, taken on July 17, 2023.

Kennedy appeared to have switched to American-made campaign merchandise by Monday morning.

I will start this blog post with a disclaimer: The Alliance for American Manufacturing is a nonpartisan institution. We don’t endorse candidates or have a political action committee. Rather, our work aims to educate candidates of all political backgrounds about manufacturing and why industrial policy and trade enforcement are needed to grow and strengthen it.

That said, there’s nothing that grinds our gears more than seeing a presidential candidate selling imported products on their campaign websites.

So when Axios broke the story last week that Democratic presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was selling shirts that were made abroad on his campaign website, we were rather displeased (although it wasn’t the most offensive thing Kennedy did last week.) Anyway, here is reporter Alex Thompson:

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s team is bucking Democratic Party tradition by selling campaign merchandise not made in America or by union labor, Axios has found.

Why it matters: The move is out of step with Kennedy’s stated commitment to labor unions and — along with his anti-vaccination views — could complicate his long-shot primary challenge of President Biden…

Zoom in: “Kennedy 2024” T-shirts sold by Kennedy’s campaign are “Assembled in Honduras,” according to the tag on a shirt obtained by Axios.

To the Kennedy campaign’s credit, it appears they corrected this unforced error fast. By Monday morning, everything on the campaign store was labeled as “100% Made in the USA,” with T-shirts touted as “made in downtown Los Angeles” with “fair labor practices” and bumper stickers and retro-styled buttons as “Union Made.”  

Selling American-made campaign merchandise is the very least a candidate can do to signal they support American workers — and considering how much time so many of them spend visiting factories and talking about supporting workers, it’s something we keep a close eye on. There’s just no excuse for selling things like campaign T-shirts, baseball camps and coffee mugs that are made abroad when there are manufacturers and union print shops ready and willing to do that work in the United States.

And when a candidate can’t find a unique item that’s made stateside — as Oliver Knox recalls, that was the case when former President Obama wanted to sell basketballs and Mitt Romney sought out a toy tour bus — it’s a good eye-opener. When campaigns do their due diligence, it showcases gaps in our domestic manufacturing base that their candidate should work to correct should they get elected.

So, are the other major 2024 presidential contenders selling Made in the USA merchandise in their campaign stores? Here’s what was for sale as of July 17, 2023.

President Biden

The current commander-in-chief frequently talks about his support for factory workers and labor unions, so we’re going to hold him to a pretty high bar when it comes to campaign gear. But as of now at least, Biden is meeting the challenge. All of the merchandise in his campaign store is labeled as “AMERICAN MADE” and “UNION PRINTED,” including this “Dark Brandon” inspired T-shirt.

Former President Donald Trump

The Republican presidential candidate doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to Made in USA, as his various Trump brand products, most of which are now defunct, were imported. And he occasionally gets called out for imported campaign gear; Maggie Haberman of The New York Times tweeted out a photo last week of a “Farmers for Trump” hat that labeled as Made in Bangladesh, although it’s unclear from the tweet if the hat was official campaign merchandise or something created by an attendee.

All that said, everything in Trump’s official and rather extensive campaign store right now is labeled as Made in USA, from his infamous Make America Great Again red hats to his line of “Not Guilty” T-shirts to coffee mugs and drink holders. Not everything Trump is selling is in particular good taste, but it is Made in USA.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

There have been a lot of ups and downs thus far in DeSantis’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination. But hey, everything in the DeSantis campaign store is labeled as Made in USA, including this tumbler and this pint glass.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

This one is going to have to be labeled as “to be determined.” As of publication, Haley’s website does not include country of origin labels for any of her campaign merchandise, including her “Blessed to live in America” mug and “Strong & Proud Not Weak & Woke” T-shirt. Haley does label a set of campaign golf balls as being made by Titleist, which does make golf balls in the United States. Here’s hoping Haley just forgot to post country of origin labels and isn’t trying to hide something.

Vivek Ramaswamy

The entrepreneur-turned-Republican presidential candidate has a fairly extensive campaign store — he even has his own red hats and anti-woke gear — and all of it is labeled as Made in USA, with the exception of Ramaswamy’s book, which does not include country of origin information.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

The Republican presidential candidate has some pretty clever merchandise in his store, from this opTIMism T-shirt (get it?) to these fun socks to Back to the Future inspired Great Scott! gear. But like Haley, Scott failed to include country of origin labels on his products, so it is unclear where anything in his campaign store is made.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

I couldn’t find a campaign store for Christie on his official campaign website, a conclusion Knox also came to as well. If you are desperate to show your love of the former Garden State governor, there are plenty of Christie 2024 T-shirt designs available on Amazon — which are imported.

Former Vice President Mike Pence

As of this writing, Pence isn’t polling high enough to qualify for the debates. But I’m going to include him in this roundup anyway because he’s the former vice president, and that should count for something. Anyway, Pence does have a store, and everything in it is labeled as Made in USA, including this golf set.

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