With the first Democratic primary debates behind us, five favorites have emerged as the most likely challengers to Donald Trump next fall. Given the president’s knack for rebranding his opponents, Team Trump is undoubtedly brainstorming nicknames to help steamroll these frontrunners. Here are just a few that may be coming to a presidential Twitter feed near you.
Trump has alternatingly referred to the former Vice President as “Sleepy Joe” and “Creepy Joe.” But if Biden continues to lead in polls despite his dismal performance in the first debate, we can be assured that more monikers are in the presidential pipeline.
Biden has several perceived shortcomings, including his age, history of questionable physical contact with women, and reputation as a gaffe machine. This gives Trump the ability to hit twice with one taunt. For example, something like Joey Hands would mock Biden’s folksy, arguably phony gregariousness along with his touchy-feely tendencies. A more straightforward approach would be Father Time, an attack on Biden’s advanced age despite Trump’s own septuagenarian status.
But the best nickname would, ironically, do what Biden has been trying to do himself: inextricably tie him to his previous boss. Joe-bama would securely link Biden with a man reviled by both Trump and his supporters: Barack Obama. Though Biden sees this as a blessing in the primaries, in a general election it could very well be a difference-making curse.
Fresh off her dominant debate performance, the California is the one top-tier candidate that Trump has yet to brand. That will undoubtedly change if Harris continues to shine. Depending on how high she soars in polls, Trump may go the safe route or choose something more risqué.
One possibility is Crooked Kamala, which implicitly saddles the emerging and therefore comparatively unscathed candidate with the baggage of Trump’s previously vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton. Find a blotch or two on her otherwise impressive career and voila: Harris is the new Hillary.
If Harris really becomes a potential threat, we may see more controversial epithets that play to his base’s desire to “own the libs.” Would anyone put it past Trump to deploy something like Busgirl, which diminishes her to diner wait staff while referencing a civil rights action – school busing – opposed by most conservatives?
Trump initially dubbed the Vermont Senator “Crazy Bernie” during the 2016 primaries, and has revived the insult for this go-round. With Sanders’ penchant for controversial statements (really, prisoner voting?) and disheveled-old-man appearance, the Heckler in Chief can do better to belittle the self-proclaimed socialist.
In addition to his eccentricities, Bernie’s bold policy proposals present an opportunity for Trump. For example, on the heels of Bernie’s pricey $1.6 trillion college debt forgiveness plan, dubbing him Dean Sanders would remind voters of his budget-busting (and admitted tax increasing) plans for America while satisfying his base’s general disdain of academia. If he really wants to get under Sanders’ skin, Dean Dandruff would accomplish this plus chide the Senator’s oft-mocked fight against flakes.
But Bernie’s two biggest bullseyes are his socialist leanings and his age. If Bernie gets close to clinching the nomination, look for Trump to brand him with something that sticks like glue to these attributes. Alliterative options include Comrade Cuckoo and Grandpa Giveaway.
Trump’s nickname for proud 1/64 Native American Elizabeth Warren, Pocahontas, is perhaps his best insult to date. It both eats at the essence of the overblown identity politics on the extreme left and panders to the nativist elements on the extreme right. Still, as Warren rides a surge in popularity following her strong opening debate performance, the time may be ripe for some fresh material.
Knowing Trump, he’ll go right for the gender jugular. Alliteratively, options with dog-whistle misogyny include Wimpy Warren and Whiny Warren. Another choice would be akin to “Crooked Kamala” in linking Warren with Trump’s 2016 opponent: Shrillary would tie her to Clinton while echoing a word conservative media frequently use to describe Warren: shrill.
However, Trump knows a winning hand when he sees it, so along with new nicknames we may see situational twists on the current one. For example, if Warren discusses her support for marijuana legalization, she’ll be Toke-ahontas. If fundraising figures show her trailing other Democratic candidates, she’s Broke-ahontas. And if she gains a few pounds on the campaign trail? Pork-ahontas, of course.
Trump’s initial nickname for South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg hit the mark, but only for those of us who remember the heyday of Mad magazine. Buttigieg really does bear a resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman… but the reference was so outdated that the 37-year-old had to Google it. Still, Trump was on the right track in going after Buttigieg’s resemblance to a mildly goofy teenager. Puberty Pete might have more staying power.
Trump also could use the wedge currently being driven by mainstream media between Buttigieg and his city’s police department, amid the force’s fatal shooting of an African-American in June. Regardless the exact circumstances, Trump can paint Buttigieg as standing against law enforcement officials, a key patriotic symbol for many voters. Policeman Petey would work nicely.
And of course, there’s that name. You can do a lot with a guy whose last name literally starts with a punchline; all presidential mockery aside, Pete must have been the “butt” of many a joke growing up. Trump has a bevy of backside-related options here including, ironically, two more dated references: the MTV-born Butthead and the Seinfeld-inspired Assman.
Of course, given that the Democratic field is incredibly wide incredibly early, there’s still time for a dark horse to break into the top tier. If that happens, we may find ourselves entertained with taunts for such otherwise yawn-inducing contenders as Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand (“Bland & Blander?”) and Jay Inslee (“AccuWeather Borecast?”). In Trump we trust to pack a perfect punchline.