When Senator Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race on Thursday, it was a devastating blow for her supporters and the 1,000-some staff members she had hired from coast to coast. But within hours, hundreds of alerts began popping up on their phones: emojis of whiskey pours, clinking champagne flutes, sloshing beer mugs, martinis and red wine glasses.
Plus, cash. Lots of cash.
Welcome to the unseen and surprise Venmo economy of collapsed campaigns in 2020, where political operatives have been, for months, sending drinking money digitally to their friends, former colleagues and rivals using the money-transferring app.
“It’s like a Candygram but in 2020,” said Lily Adams, the former communications director for Senator Kamala Harris. “But better and far more useful.”
The practice has spread unexpectedly and unplanned from campaign to campaign, like a viral video with a life of its own: $10 here, $25, even $100. It peaked this past week as Ms. Warren followed Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Michael R. Bloomberg to the exits.
Drinks soon followed at the bar.
“A campaign staffer doesn’t want your thoughts and prayers,” said Lis Smith, the hard-charging former senior adviser to Mr. Buttigieg, who has both sent and received campaign-concluding Venmo cash. “They just want your cash for Bud Light and shots of Jameson.”
The crucible of presidential campaigns — even unionized ones like much of the Democratic field had — is intense. The hours are long, the scrutiny is severe and the pressure is extreme. Then, in an instant, it’s over.
“I’m not an astronaut,” Ms. Adams said. “But I would imagine that it’s like leaving the earth’s atmosphere — and all that fire and pressure — and suddenly you’re in zero gravity and it all stops.”
The campaign, that thing that had grounded them for months and sometimes years, is gone. Those who have experienced that swift change in pressure have sought to ease re-entry with a slosh fund of sorts.
Chris Hayden, the deputy communications director for Ms. Warren, had never heard of this tradition until, all of a sudden, he started getting cash alerts midday Thursday.
“It is very appreciated and I intend to use it on junior staff,” Mr. Hayden said in an interview from the bar at about 5:30 p.m., where his table of colleagues had instructed the waitstaff not to let the beer pitchers run dry. “I did not know about this!”
Some operatives have already gone through the exercise twice, having jumped from one losing 2020 campaign to another. Such is life in a race where an unwieldy 28 Democrats ran for president, and only three remain.
“The first one I got was when Beto dropped out,” said Aleigha Cavalier, who was former Representative Beto O’Rourke’s national press secretary. Her friend, Hannah Bristol, a Warren aide, sent her an unsolicited $10 that day (“For a drink or Nutella”).
“She’s one of the younger, hipper people in my life,” Ms. Cavalier, 32, said of Ms. Bristol, 27.
Ms. Cavalier went on to work for Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor, in his last-minute bid. When he quit in February, she got more cash via Venmo. So when Ms. Warren exited the race, she returned the favor. “We’re family,” Ms. Cavalier said of a cross-campaign culture of respect. “You take care of each other.”
Anecdotally, Democratic campaign professionals reported fewer funds flowing to aides of Mr. Bloomberg when he dropped out. After all, the self-funding multibillionaire had been treating aides to campaign-issued Apple laptops, catered meals, furnished Manhattan apartments and salaries that dwarfed the rest of the field. He spent more than $550 million on advertising alone.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg’s team decamped to the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square after he quit the race. The former mayor himself showed up and stayed for hours, taking pictures with those who wanted them. There was no need for Venmo; the billionaire’s campaign covered the tab.
The amount of money being deposited is not insignificant.
Addisu Demissie, who was Senator Cory Booker’s campaign manager, said he had sent out about $600 on Thursday. When Mr. Booker dropped out, he similarly received hundreds of dollars, all unsolicited.
“There has definitely been a little economy of this,” he said. “It really did mean a lot that day we got out. People know what the fight is like.”
Zach Graumann, who served as campaign manager for the businessman and political outsider Andrew Yang, got his first Venmo not the day his candidate dropped out but when his beloved Buffalo Bills lost in the N.F.L. playoffs. Ms. Smith, the Buttigieg adviser, sent him some commiserating cash.
He and Erick Sanchez, Mr. Yang’s traveling press secretary, used it to pay for some go-kart racing at a casino complex in Burlington, Iowa.
“After Andrew dropped, she sent money over,” Mr. Sanchez recalled. “After Pete dropped, I sent money over.”
This week, the practice spread beyond the inner sanctum of campaign staff to surrogates — and even some strangers — on the internet.
Brandon Wolf, a gay-rights activist and survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., endorsed Ms. Warren last fall after a personal phone call from her and traveled the country as a surrogate. On Thursday, he jumped on Twitter to praise Ms. Warren’s “liberty green” army — her campaign’s adopted color.
“Tired: asking Warren staff what’s next,” he wrote. “Wired: buying Warren staff a cocktail.”
He suggested her aides list their cash-collecting IDs in the thread “so the good people of Twitter can thank you.” Dozens did.
“This is our digital way of buying each other a drink at a bar,” Mr. Wolf said in an interview.
Priyanka Aribindi, who works in marketing for Crooked Media, a progressive media company, and supported Ms. Warren, posted something similar. Both tweets had more than 2,000 likes.
Alexis Krieg, a Warren spokeswoman, replied to Ms. Aribindi’s thread with her Venmo handle suggesting that “your contribution will help support my big, structural sips of single malt” — a play on Ms. Warren’s promise of “big, structural change.”
She scored about $250, mostly from strangers.
“I have no idea who these people are,” Ms. Krieg said. “But I love them.”
She used the proceeds to purchase Lagavulin 16, a single malt Scotch whisky.