Donald Trump appears to take pride in assigning his adversaries disparaging nicknames. From labeling Jeb Bush as “low-energy” during the 2016 Republican primary to dubbing Ted Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” and Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” during the general election, Trump carried this tradition into his presidency.
However, his chosen moniker for Joe Biden, “Sleepy Joe,” didn’t work in tarnishing Biden’s reputation in the 2020 election. At the time, polls revealed that among registered voters nationwide, Trump held a 16-point advantage over Biden in terms of being perceived as “energetic.” However, the same voters gave Biden a 10-point lead when it comes to their actual voting preferences.
In essence, voters acknowledged the premise of “Sleepy Joe” but still favored Biden over Trump.
Now, as Trump faces four criminal indictments and prepares for a 2024 rematch, he is altering his narrative, portraying his successor as a secretive mastermind who manipulates a complex justice system without leaving a trace, calling him “Crooked Joe.”
In a recent social media post, Trump asserted, “These Indictments and lawsuits are all part of my political opponents campaign plan. It is Election Interference, and they are going to use the DOJ/FBI to help them, which is illegal. Crooked Joe pushed this litigation hard to get it done. This is a new low in Presidential Politics.”
Trump has used the moniker “Crooked Joe” in his recent online posts and interviews, making unfounded allegations that Biden orchestrates a conspiracy against him using law enforcement. Nevertheless, even as he attempts to reshape his portrayal of Biden, Trump occasionally reverts to his prior characterization of the man who defeated him as an aging and feeble individual who might not even make it to 2024.
“Crooked Joe Biden is so bad. He’s the worst president in the history of our country. I don’t think he’s going to make it to the gate, but you never know,” Trump told right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson in an interview released last week. “I think he’s worse mentally than he is physically. And physically, he’s not exactly a triathlete or any kind of an athlete. You look at him, he can’t walk to the helicopter. He walks — he can’t lift his feet out of the grass.”
However, with the “Crooked Joe” persona, Trump consistently implies that a man he has suggested is mentally unfit is secretly controlling the Justice Department, state prosecutors beyond his jurisdiction, and even secretive grand juries, all of whom must legally approve the indictments.
This notion has been met with skepticism, as expressed by former GOP operative-turned-Trump critic Tim Miller on Bulwark’s “The Next Level Podcast,” who quipped, “I’m confused. Is dementia-riddled Joe Biden also controlling the people in all of these separate grand juries in four different jurisdictions in four states?”
There is no evidence to support the claim that Biden is behind Trump’s indictments, which include two from special counsel Jack Smith and one each from prosecutors in New York and Georgia, who do not answer to Washington. Nevertheless, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and numerous congressional Republicans have echoed these claims.
Biden has chosen not to comment on Trump’s legal cases, emphasizing the independence of the Justice Department from the White House. He has also remained silent on criminal charges against his son, Hunter Biden, who is the subject of a special counsel investigation.
Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz commented, “Donald Trump is running on the same, unpopular agenda that cost him the election in 2020. No amount of name-calling within his MAGA echo chamber changes that fact. These are the same projections we’ve seen from the leader of one of the most corrupt administrations in history. Donald Trump may invent many nicknames for President Biden, but we have a better one: winner.”
The contrasting characterizations of Biden – as sleepy and confused or as ruthless and effective – are the subject of ongoing debate among Republicans. Surveys indicate that independent voters are generally skeptical of the claim that Biden is weaponizing law enforcement for political purposes but express concerns about his age.
A Politico/Ipsos survey found that 64% of independents believe the Justice Department’s indictment of Trump for election subversion in 2020 was based on a fair evaluation of the evidence and the law, with 59% of American adults in agreement. Only 40% of independents believe that the indictment was politically motivated, with 44% of U.S. adults sharing this viewpoint.
The Republican party’s internal conflict regarding how to portray Biden – as senile and inept or as corrupt and merciless – is also evident in the 2024 presidential primary. Several long-shot Republican candidates are championing Trump’s grievances while hoping his frontrunner status falters.
During the first debate, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy accused the Democratic Party of using law enforcement to indict its political opponents. Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., criticized the alleged weaponization of the Department of Justice under Biden.
On the contrary, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asserts that Biden is too weak and frail to survive another four-year term, warning that Vice President Kamala Harris would become president if he’s re-elected.
In his own words, Trump clarified that he repurposed his nickname for Hillary Clinton, calling Biden “a corrupt individual” and explaining his choice.
“He’s a corrupt person. So corrupt that I took the name off Hillary,” Trump told Carlson. “I don’t do two people at one time. I took the Crooked Hillary and I made it, I retired the name. That was a good day for her. I bet she was very happy. And I used it for Joe because it’s Crooked Joe.”