Once upon a time, among folks of a certain age, having a nickname or street name was mostly a badge of honor, emblematic of status in the community. However, in contemporary political parlance, such appellations have morphed into taunts or insults, with a few exceptions. During the 2016 presidential campaign, we were treated to “Liddle Marco” (Senator Rubio), “Lyin’ Ted” (Senator Cruz), and “Crooked Hillary” (Clinton), among others.
The art of the name game is to excite and create social media storms to denigrate candidates without reference to policy position or political platform. Visceral messaging by way of insulting names is not only provocative but attention-getting, especially for the name caller who may often attach an insulting meme to the name (e.g., the Kaepernick wing of the Democratic Party, or MS–13 supporter) to increase social media traction. Nor is the art limited to one political party, despite one’s appreciation of its origins. Here are a few:
- In Wisconsin, Democrat Randy Bryce, campaigning for the seat of retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (briefly known as Lyin’ Ryan) has painted his opposition Brian Steil as Lyin’ Brian.
- In Indiana, Republican Mike Braun has pasted his Democratic incumbent opponent as Sleepin’ Joe (Donnelly) to channel a claim of ineffectiveness.
- In Nevada, Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen has labeled her incumbent opponent Dean Heller as Senator Spineless.
- In Missouri, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill has been dubbed Crooked Claire and Millionaire Claire by her opposition.
On occasion, the use of some memes seems to be disconnected from reality or, for that matter, fact. In Alaska, a Republican gubernatorial candidate paid for a Facebook ad to demonstrate his opposition to the MS–13 street gang, which did not appear to pose any threat in the state. Nonetheless, he was opposed, he wished his supporters to know. Candidates continue to experiment with social media advertising in an effort to discover the essence of the art and to tie its use to voter turnout and contributions. The jury remains out on two new name-game-for-fame entries:
- Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), in addition to her social media blitz concerning her Native American heritage (Pocahontas), recently posted to Facebook “I am angry and I own it.” Time will tell whether Angry Liz tracks in social media.
- The President announced that he is a nationalist and should be called a nationalist; Nationalist Don?
There are many other name games in play, and we have not seen the last of them as 2020 looms. Perhaps some will gain fame while others are consigned to infamy. It may be, as the Bard said, a “consummation devoutly to be wished,” whereby name fame is unwanted or fleeting. This may be especially true for some like Ted Cruz, who have been re-dubbed or renamed Beautiful Ted and Texas Ted only a few weeks prior to the 2018 midterms.