Trump tests monikers as 2020 Demo­cratic field shapes up

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Pres­i­dent Trump re­ferred to for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden as a “low I.Q. in­di­vid­ual” last week, just days af­ter he ques­tioned whether for­mer Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s fast-mov­ing hand move­ments are a sign of men­tal in­sta­bil­ity.

As the 2020 Demo­cratic field takes shape, the man they are aim­ing for is pre­par­ing his own sup­pres­sive fire in the same fash­ion he used so ef­fec­tively against his 2016 op­po­nents: ridicule.

“Joe Biden got tongue tied over the week­end when he was un­able to prop­erly de­liver a very sim­ple line about his de­ci­sion to run for Pres­i­dent,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Get used to it, an­other low I.Q. in­di­vid­ual!”

That is an up­date from last year, when Mr. Trump tested out “Crazy Joe Biden” and called the for­mer sen­a­tor “weak, both men­tally and phys­i­cally.”

But then the “crazy” ap­pel­la­tion is al­ready taken for 2020, af­ter Mr. O’Rourke drew Mr. Trump’s at­ten­tion with his cam­paign an­nounce­ment last week.

“I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’” Mr. Trump told re­porters at the White House.

He also has used “crazy” on Sen. Bernard San­ders, a 2016 can­di­date who is tak­ing an­other shot at the White House next year.

Though most vot­ers say they wish the pres­i­dent would cut out the rou­tine, Mr. Trump be­lieves his method is a suc­cess af­ter leav­ing “low-en­ergy” Jeb Bush and “crooked” Hil­lary Clin­ton in the dust in 2016.

“Trump is very ef­fec­tive at say­ing things that peo­ple may have thought but would never have said,” Pa­trick Grif­fin, a Re­pub­li­can Party strate­gist, told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “At some level, noth­ing re­ally digs in or works un­less a few peo­ple can say, ‘Yes that is true.’”

Mr. Grif­fin said the pres­i­dent is chan­nel­ing Don Rick­les, a leg­endary comic who el­e­vated in­sults into an art form.

Mr. Trump’s fa­vorite tar­get so far this cam­paign has been Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, whom he has called “goofy” and dubbed “Poc­a­hon­tas” in re­sponse to her claim of Amer­i­can In­dian an­ces­try.

In­dian lead­ers have called Ms. War­ren’s du­bi­ous claims hurt­ful, but they also say Mr. Trump’s jibe is in­sult­ing.

Yet the pres­i­dent rev­els in it. He fret­ted ear­lier this year that he may have de­ployed the nick­name too soon.

“Be­cause I’ve de­stroyed her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, and now I won’t get a chance to run against her, and I would’ve loved it,” he said at the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence.

Scott Fer­son, a Demo­cratic strate­gist in Mass­a­chu­setts, said the at­tack against Ms. War­ren is over the top but ef­fec­tive be­cause it plays off a lin­ger­ing “ker­nel of doubt in vot­ers’ minds.”

“So by harp­ing on the ‘ fake In­dian’ line, he is tap­ping into what I think vot­ers are con­cerned with in terms of just her be­liev­abil­ity and trust­wor­thi­ness,” Mr. Fer­son said. “There is that lit­tle bit of doubt as to how she han­dled her pro­fes­sional life, and she has never been able to put that to bed — and he keeps scratch­ing that scab.”

Mr. Trump puts some thought into it, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port last month, which said the pres­i­dent was test-driv­ing la­bels.

At root, the in­sults play into Mr. Trump’s role as critic in chief, com­ment­ing on pop cul­tural el­e­ments such as “Satur­day Night Live” and for­mer celebrity friends. The com­mon fac­tor is that they have been an­tag­o­nis­tic to­ward him.

“The bot­tom line is that he per­son­al­izes pol­i­tics in a way that most of those in­volved in it do not, mostly be­cause they are in­vested in the sys­tem — and there­fore want to pre­serve their op­tions in the event they lose,” said Mike McKenna, a Re­pub­li­can Party strate­gist. “He is not in­vested in the sys­tem and there­fore doesn’t re­ally care about whose feel­ings he hurts.

“That’s what drives peo­ple ba­nanas,” he said. “He re­fuses to play by the rules, cus­toms and tra­di­tions. They have no clue what to do with him.”

Past tar­gets in­cluded 2016 pri­mary op­po­nents Sen. Marco Ru­bio and Sen. Ted Cruz, who were given the monikers “Lit­tle Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted.” Mr. Trump made sure to let his au­di­ence know “Lyin’” was said with an apos­tro­phe.

Mr. Cruz coun­tered that Mr. Trump was “a snivel­ing cow­ard.”

Since then, Mr. Cruz has earned his way out of the Trump dog­house and is now dubbed “Beau­ti­ful Ted.”

Mr. Fer­son said Democrats must avoid tak­ing Mr. Trump’s bait. TV news an­chors and com­men­ta­tors air ev­ery word, even as they tsk tsk the pres­i­dent.

“If Democrats are go­ing to be suc­cess­ful, we will have to fig­ure out how to ig­nore him with­out ig­nor­ing him,” Mr. Fer­son said. “It means when you are con­stantly asked by me­dia about what the pres­i­dent has said about you, we have to find a way to more ef­fec­tively get a mes­sage out in that ex­change.” That is eas­ier said than done, he said. “You wouldn’t pay at­ten­tion to Don­ald Trump if he were your friend, but he is not your friend. He is the pres­i­dent of the United States,” he said.

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