A lot, if we’re talking about the nicknames presidents and their aides bestow on each other and their rivals. Donald Trump publicly used nicknames to demean his political opponents — “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and “Little Marco.” This charming development was something new in American politics, I think.
But, as presidential historian Tevi Troy shows, presidents and their aides have long used derogatory nicknames in private. The practice certainly did not start with Trump calling Jeff Sessions “Mr. Magoo” and Betsy DeVos “Ditsy.”
Tevi’s piece, which was published in Politico, is a fun and revealing read. For example, I knew that George W. Bush liked to call Karl Rove “the Architect.” I wasn’t aware (and kind of wish I still wasn’t) that he sometimes called Rove “Turd Blossom.”
I knew that Sid Blumenthal was known in Clinton administration circles as “Sid Vicious” and “GK” (for “grassy knoll” due to Blumenthal’s love of conspiracy theories). I didn’t know (or didn’t recall) that during the same administration, top aide Harold Ickes and his allies called Dick Morris “the Unabomber,” while Morris referred to Ickes and company as “the thugocracy.”
I recalled, probably from Tevi’s book Fight House, that in the Obama administration, Valerie Jarrett was knows as “the Night Stalker” because of her ability to win policy disputes by making her case during nocturnal visits to Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House. I didn’t know (or didn’t recall) that deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes earned the nickname “Hamas” because he was so critical of Israel.
Everyone who followed politics in the 1960s knew of Robert Kennedy’s animosity towards Lyndon Johnson, and vice versa. Kennedy and his cronies called Johnson “Rufus Cornpone” and Kennedy’s wife Ethel called him “Huckleberry Capone.” Even LBJ’s long-suffering wife Lady Bird didn’t escape ridicule. She was “Little Pork Chop” to Johnson’s “Uncle Cornpone.”
LBJ contented himself with calling Robert Kennedy “Sonny Boy.”
There’s plenty more in Tevi’s piece. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.