ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump had the friendly crowd at a simmer during a campaign rally Tuesday evening in Tampa, Florida. Then the showman in chief dropped two words that sent them into a raucous boil: “Crooked Hillary.”
Trump had long pivoted away from the man he was ostensibly there to boost in his no-longer-long-shot bid for the Republican nomination for governor, Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis. Trump was touting Trump. Just before employing the derisive moniker that helped him vanquish his 2016 general election foe, Trump was boasting about moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“We started working — and for $400,000 we actually have a very beautiful American embassy in Jerusalem — really beautiful,” the New York real estate tycoon said. “Now, that’s one I guarantee no other president is doing. Can you imagine ‘Crooked Hillary’ doing that? Can you, honestly? Can you imagine?”
The audience, many in “Make America Great Again” gear, erupted. First with angry, loud boos.
Then, it was as if Trump using his nickname for Clinton had opened a time warp back to 2016. As he stood behind the presidential podium with a smirk, the crowd loudly chanted, “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
Watch: Trump Breaks Out ‘Pocahontas’ Nickname for Warren During Native American Event
Critics dismiss his many mocking aliases as insulting and beneath the office of the presidency, but the Tuesday night scene showed how he often shrewdly uses them to fire up his conservative base — and plant seeds of doubt about his opponents.
With the help of political operatives and scholars, Roll Call compiled a power ranking of some of Trump’s nicknames in terms of their effectiveness for his political goals.
“These nicknames really work for Trump. They’re not only an attempt to diminish an opponent, they are code words for something else. And they distract people’s attention,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist. “Trump realizes campaigns, especially for president, aren’t about issues — they’re all about personalities, especially for independent voters.”
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, was more succinct, saying, “The bottom line is: Trump’s nicknames stick.”
1. Crooked Hillary
“I bet some voters believe ‘Crooked Hillary’ Clinton is actually the name on her driver’s license. In many ways, he’s bad on messaging, but on this, very good,” Bannon said. “He wants the Democratic Party to be Hillary Clinton — he’s purposely trying to keep her specter alive.”
Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst (and biggest) loser of all time. She just can’t stop, which is so good for the Republican Party. Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017
2. Little Rocket Man
Trump’s nickname for the North Korean leader certainly got Kim Jong Un’s attention, even if it made Democratic lawmakers fear the two nuclear-armed countries were heading toward a conflict. Several experts contacted gave the nickname an incomplete, but a majority had it in the No. 1 or 2 slots. It’s this high because it helped lead to the Trump-Kim summit, which left the world captivated — just as the former reality television star wanted it.
Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
3. Low Energy Jeb
Candidate Trump used this as a rhetorical first-round knock out punch on Jeb Bush during the 2016 GOP primary. The former Florida governor never recovered. “Jeb had to refute and rebut the claim,” Siegfried said. “And Jeb was incapable of it.”
Low energy Jeb Bush just endorsed a man he truly hates, Lyin’ Ted Cruz. Honestly, I can’t blame Jeb in that I drove him into oblivion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
4. (tie) Lyin’ Ted
Trump had trouble finishing off Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. Experts said there’s no question this alias helped TKO the conservative darling. “It was almost a trial run for ‘Crooked Hillary,’” Siegfried said. “Ted would get confronted by pro-Trump people who would just start yelling ‘Lyin’ Ted’ at him.”
Wow, Lyin’ Ted Cruz really went wacko today. Made all sorts of crazy charges. Can’t function under pressure – not very presidential. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2016
4. (tie) Pocahontas
Should Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, gain traction as a 2020 presidential candidate, this racially-tinged moniker will no doubt rank higher. It’s perhaps the most controversial Trump nickname — so far. “It’s a classic. It plays on his base’s fears about affirmative action,” Bannon said, adding, “And it’s clearly a racial codeword: She’s not a real American like us.”
6. Failing New York Times
Experts had this one, part of the president’s war on what he dubs the “fake news” media, anywhere from third to eighth. It’s not just a nickname, it’s a false one. The Times’ CEO has said the newspaper is swelling — both its audience and subscribers.
The Failing and Corrupt @nytimes estimated the crowd last night at “1000 people,” when in fact it was many times that number – and the arena was rockin’. This is the way they demean and disparage. They are very dishonest people who don’t “get” me, and never did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2018
7. 17 Angry Democrats
Like his name for Warren, this one surely will rise in future incarnations of these rankings. As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III eventually gives Congress his findings about Russian campaign interference and possible collaboration with the Trump campaign — and whether the president obstructed justice — Trump’s previous behavior suggests he will lash out.
“This one might prove to be the most important before long,” said Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
8. Crazy Maxine Waters
This relative newcomer also should rise as Trump tries to paint the Democratic Party in California Rep. Maxine Waters’ image. Again, the racial tones rev up Trump’s white conservative base.
“If Democrats take control of House, we will hear more and more of these personal attacks on Democratic House members from the president,” Bannon said. The president recently alleged that Waters is “one of the most corrupt people in politics.”
Crazy Maxine Waters, said by some to be one of the most corrupt people in politics, is rapidly becoming, together with Nancy Pelosi, the FACE of the Democrat Party. Her ranting and raving, even referring to herself as a wounded animal, will make people flee the Democrats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
9. Little Marco
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had a late surge in the 2016 GOP presidential race. But like his derisive names for Bush and Cruz, Trump was able to diminish Rubio and drive him from the race.
10. Crazy Joe Biden
Keep an eye on this one, and any facelift it might get — especially as 2020 gets closer and the former vice president makes a decision on running.
GOP and Democratic strategists say Biden has the best shot at defeating the president. That’s why Siegfred says this: “I don’t think ‘Crazy Joe Biden’ works so well. I think it would be better for Trump to go with ‘Creepy Joe.’ … Conservatives have tried to point out how Biden has a habit of getting a little handsy with women.”
Remember, these two septuagenarians already have challenged each other to a fist fight.
Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018