Now that we all agree that civility in politics is overrated, beside the point and beneficial only to extremists, it’s time to start calling one another by increasingly rude nicknames. What’s the point of living in a divided country if you don’t? Trump has done more than any president in U.S. history to normalize the use of personal epithets, and while he’s not exactly a role model for how to conduct oneself on a national stage, “Low Energy Jeb” is too funny to brush aside. Credit where it’s due.
But Trump has been falling down on the job — at least where the Democrats vying to challenge him in 2020 are concerned.
The president has worked hardest to brand Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” which is just plain offensive; for Bernie Sanders, he’s tried to resurrect “Crazy Bernie,” a rather limp tag conceived back in the 2016 cycle. I think Joe Biden is destined to be “Creepy Uncle Joe” or something similar — and not without good reason.
Given this typical laziness and unprofessionalism from our chief executive, it’s up to the American electorate (specifically, the infighting bloc of center-to-far-left voters who show any interest in the presidential horse race before primaries have begun) to craft halfway clever nicknames for the candidates. How are they doing so far? Let’s check in.
Contrary to both Trump’s go-to formula of [adjective + first name], and George W. Bush’s fondness for fratty roasting (e.g., Karl Rove as “Turd Blossom”), the centrist libs, meme-sharing Boomers and #Resistance grifters rely on more direct wordplay. This crowd, the folks who exuberantly hit “like” on the Krassenstein brothers‘ all-caps Twitter replies to @realDonaldTrump, seem to have taken a cue from conservatives’ derision of Barack Obama (“Nobama,” “Obummer” and the like), casting Trump as “Drumpf,” “Dump,” “tRump” or “Trumplethinkskin,” among too many others to mention.
It’s a faction that largely still blames Bernie Sanders and his supporters for Trump’s victory against Hillary Clinton, and they’ve taken the same approach against him. Surely you’ve seen references to Bernard Slanders by now.
While the Bernie “Slanders” pun has roots in the bruising 2016 Democratic contest, referring to his alleged smears of Hillary Clinton and the party, it has taken on a new life as Biden boosters push the narrative that the women who accuse him of inappropriate touching are Bernie camp operatives trying to sabotage a rival campaign. We’ve also seen mutations: “Bernie Panders,” “Birdbrain Sanders,” and even “Bernholio Slanders.” That one’s for the Beavis and Butt-Head fans, a core Democratic constituency.
Guy should be careful not to grow a mustache, lest he become “Bernie Flanders.”
Not everyone is deserving of this creativity, however. If you’re a relatively unknown latecomer to the race, like Ohio’s Rep. Tim Ryan, you barely merit a spoonerism — the transposition of the first letters of your given name and surname for a goofy rhyme. It’s an ironically dumb tactic that’s become a favorite of the left: With the right mix of syllables, you end up sounding like a knockoff Star Trek character. Anyone who has ever been Ratioed for a terrible tweet has already suffered this attack, which paints the target as a buffoon who does things backward as a matter of course. Sorry, Rim Tyan.
Perhaps the spoonerized are the likely ones. Spare a thought for poor Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana: With a hard-to-pronounce surname that also encompasses the word “butt,” he was bound to become the butt of bad jokes like Pete Buttchug.
The fact that Buttigieg is openly gay has led to debate as to whether these colorful sobriquets are homophobic. This controversy, it seems safe to say, is unlikely to dampen enthusiasm for all the butt-talk, which will only intensify if and when MAGA right-wingers come to see Buttigieg as threat to Trump and bring their anti-gay hysteria to bear. Those same chuds also appear to be picking up on the substitution of “Scamala Harris” for Sen. Kamala Harris. But without a specific scam to hammer, how far can it take you?
For now, though, that’s a niche form of trolling. Lots of Republicans are targeting a different mainstream Dem contender with notable fundraising muscle, one whose name turns out to be a bonanza for the legions of insecure dudes who revere Trump as an idol of macho culture and authenticity: Beto O’Rourke. Some have looked to rebrand Beto using his full name, Robert Francis O’Rourke, to stoke anger about a supposed scheme to present himself as Latinx rather than white (adding a touch of effeminate elitism to his image probably doesn’t hurt, either). Yet the anti-Beto moniker that’s bound to go the distance is way less subtle, directly invoking the fragile masculinity that drives it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Beta O’Cuck.” Honorable mention for “Beta O’Dork.”
Almost a full year lies between now and the 2020 Iowa caucuses; who knows how these names will continue to morph and degrade in that period? Should he gain a higher profile, Andrew Yang will no doubt acquire a racist honorific from either the president’s supporters or Trump himself. Gov. Jay Inslee may drop out because no one would be bothered to mangle his name for a laugh. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is liable to embrace her reputation as an abusive boss and adopt a “Klobberin’ Time” slogan. What’s certain is that never again can a presidential hopeful run on their name alone — they also carry the baggage of every schoolyard taunt it inspires. That’s why, officially, I will not seek the 2020 nomination. The chants of “Miles Pee” are more than I am prepared to bear.