bureaucracybusters

POLITICAL INSULTS: IGNORE THEM OR RESPOND?—PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 7, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Former Vice President Joe Biden has stepped into the nickname wars.

Since Biden launched his bid in late April, President Donald Trump has relentlessly insulted him, often referring to him as “Sleepy Joe.”

At a private fundraiser in Columbia, South Carolina, a supporter asked Biden if he would return Trump’s insults.

“There’s so many nicknames I’m inclined to give this guy,” Biden said to laughter in the room. “You can just start with clown.” 

Biden said he would respond to Trump if directly attacked. But he added that he believed it was part of Trump’s strategy to avoid dealing with serious issues.

“On every single issue and on every demeaning thing he says about other people, I have no problem responding directly,” Biden said. “What I’m not going to do is get into what he wants me to do. He wants this to be a mud wrestling match.” 

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Joe Biden 

The blunt truth is that neither Democrats nor Republicans have even tried to match—let alone top—Trump’s penchant for insulting his political opponents.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks have noted this aspect of Trump’s character

On May 27, 2016, Shields—a liberal, and Brooks, a conservative—appeared on the PBS Newshour to review the week’s major political events.

With the business magnate having won the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, both columnists appeared increasingly dismayed. 

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

MARK SHIELDS: “Donald Trump gratuitously slandered Ted Cruz’s wife. He libeled Ted Cruz’s father for being potentially part of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of the president of the United States, suggesting that he was somehow a fellow traveler in that.  

“This is a libel. You don’t get over it….  

“I cannot figure out any possible advantage to Donald Trump when he’s got a problem with Latinos and with women to go into New Mexico, where the nation’s only Latina woman Republican governor sits, who has not said anything negative about him, who endorsed one of his opponents, but has not been an attack dog on Donald Trump, and absolutely goes after her and is abusive to her.  

“And I’m just saying to myself, what is the advantage to this?

“…I think this man may be addicted to the roar of the grease paint and the sound of the crowd, or however it goes, smell of the crowd.

“And those rallies bring out something in him, and he just feels that he has to—and it’s all personal….I mean, it’s not a philosophical difference. It’s not a political difference. It’s all personal.”

DAVID BROOKS: “Trump, for all his moral flaws, is a marketing genius. And you look at what he does. He just picks a word and he attaches it to a person. Little Marco [Rubio], Lyin’ Ted [Cruz], Crooked Hillary [Clinton].

“And that’s a word.  And that’s how marketing works.  It’s a simple, blunt message, but it gets under.

“It sticks, and it diminishes.  And so it has been super effective for him, because he knows how to do that.  And she [Hillary Clinton] just comes with, ‘Oh, he’s divisive.’

“These are words that are not exciting people. And her campaign style has gotten, if anything…a little more stagnant and more flat.”  

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only Presidential candidate who proved unable to cope with Trump’s gifts for insult. His targets—and insults—included: 

  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry: “Wears glasses to seem smart.”
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: “Low Energy Jeb.”
  • Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders: “Crazy Bernie.”
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich: “Mathematically dead and totally desperate.”

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tried to out-insult Trump at the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on March 3, 2016.

“I call him Little Marco. Little Marco. Hello, Marco,” said Trump.

And so Rubio retaliated with “Big Donald.”

Since Americans generally believe that “bigger is better,” this was a poor choice of insult.

So far, only one opponent has managed to verbally stand up to Trump: Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom Trump has called “goofy” and “Pocahontas.”  

On the May 27, 2016 edition of the PBS Newshour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted the ability of Elizabeth Warren to rattle Trump:

“Elizabeth Warren gets under Donald Trunp’s skin. And I think she’s been the most effective adversary. I think she’s done more to unite the Democratic party than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

“I mean, she obviously—he can’t stay away from her. He is tweeting about her.” 

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Elizabeth Warren

JUDY WOODRUFF (moderator): “But whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or not, doesn’t Hillary Clinton need to come up with some approach that works, that is as effective comeback?”

DAVID BROOKS: “Yes. Well, I think she does, not that anybody else has managed to do this….

“And so the tactics…is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor. Humor is not Hillary Clinton’s strongest point.”  

But sharp-edged humor clearly works for Warren.  

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